Chicago Dance Review: WINNING WORKS 2016 (Joffrey Academy of Dance and MCA, Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 6, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


The debut of a quartet of new dance pieces was not without some unanticipated excitement. A patron managed to sneak two non-service dogs into the Museum of Contemporary Art’s theater; one growled his approval–before the work was over. The video promoting the dance pieces accidentally came on five times–but the young dancers stayed on mission and en pointe.

 Coco + Igor_Photo by Todd Rosenberg (2)

Overall Joffrey Ballet’s Winning Works 2016 was just that—winning and a lot of work (at play). The sold-out, weekend-long, three-performance offering from the official school, Joffrey Academy of Dance, delivered gorgeous goods. In little more than an hour the inexhaustible youth, stamina, discipline and joy of movement of two dozen apprentice dancers (and future stars) was incontestably established. New works by new talents in a fused freshness—it was as awesome as natural.

Joffrey Academy Winning Works Joffrey Academy Winning Works

Conceived and choreographed by Alexei Kremnev, “Coco + Igor” is a hybrid homage, with monochromatic colors and wrenching, Diaghilev-like movements, to both Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. Ingeniously combining the sheer chic of the perfume Chanel No. 5 with the ferocious love sacrifice of The Rite of Spring, this very structured amalgam employed music by Stravinsky and Gabriel Yared to alternate friezes with whirls. Red petals are dropped for sheer color contrast, a Matisse-like round dance is briefly recreated, and human pyramids erected and dismantled. It had a fluid grandeur that successfully melded coquetterie and ferocity, two sides of Paris during a clash of cultures. The abrupt ending I have yet to explain.

Chapter 1, chapter 6_Photo by Todd Rosenberg (2) Chapter 1, chapter 6_Photo by Todd Rosenberg (3)

Performed in billowing gray smocks by a supple and game ensemble, “Chapter 1, Chapter 6” is Jeffrey Cirio’s lyrical, athletic piece to music by Kiasmos. Its most notable features were a kind of sexy group strut, ritualistic flailing, and the continual construction of a single sinuous long arm created from the upper limbs of the combined dancers. I don’t know what happened to Chapters 2-5 but we glimpsed some skilled storytelling.

Joffrey Academy Winning Works

Death and the Maiden_Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Perhaps the most satisfyingly successful world premiere, if only for its unity of impact, was Mariana Oliveira’s enthralling treatment of Franz Schubert’s chamber variations on his song “Death and the Maiden.” With the veiled women in white and the men resembling dark dervishes trapped in sinister swirls, a powerful contrast detonated the drama. Jerky movements where “take” wins out over “give” drove home this literal dance of death between a maiden and the minions of the Reaper.

Joffrey Academy Winning Works

Joffrey Academy Winning Works

Finally and problematically, Christian Denice’s somewhat conventional “Urgence” was an earth-colored, sun-baked, “Dust Bowl” depiction of the ongoing California drought, processed to a suitably stark score by Armand Amar. A truly ensemble work with terrific tandem movements imploring precipitation, this modern-day rain dance was hampered by Gabriel Brandon-Hanson’s ugly and unflattering sepia-tinted, gold-spangled costumes, threads to be permanently retired after this weekend. Supposedly suggesting humanity’s urge to persevere through hard times (so why use a French word for American resilience?), it suggested an almost skeletal suffering more than plucky survival.

Joffrey Academy Winning Works Joffrey Academy Winning Works

Death and the Maiden_Tess Voelker & Joffrey Studio Company Members_Photo by Todd RosenbergBut, as with all fours works on the MCA stage, the showcase went well beyond technical finesse to forge the future.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Winning Works, 2016
The Joffrey Academy of Dance
in association with the
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater, 220 E. Chicago Ave
ends on March 6, 2016
for tickets, call 312.397.4010 or visit MCA
for more info, visit Joffrey

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