Dance Review: THE TIMES ARE RACING (Joffrey)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 13, 2020

in Dance,Theater-Chicago


Just when we’ve forgotten what green looks like, a mid-winter shakeup in Chicago seems essential. Supplying that stimulus in quantum doses, the winter program of the Joffrey Ballet is warming up the Auditorium Theatre through February 23 with five well-contrasted ballets by four enterprising choreographers, a mixed repertory that features three Chicago premieres. The Times Are Racing is the apt title for both the final offering and one very exciting evening.

Opening the astonishment is Commedia, a classic piece by British sensation Christopher Wheeldon. Set to (and often recalling) Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 Pulcinella (a partnership with Picasso), this retro charmer may not deliver the plots that convulse commedia dell’arte. But Wheeldon’s “harlequinade” certainly captures the style.

Managing to be both stately and serious, the 13 sections combine a mannered buffoonery with the surprising grace of a Renaissance masque. Framed by a playful proscenium, the eight dancers share their strutting, sashaying and pratfalls with impassive sang-froid. Antics have never been more artistic.

Almost all rhythm, particularly the clicking of typewriter keys, industrial-strong Mono Lisa (2003) is a Midwest premiere by Itzik Galili that celebrates the rapidity of machinery. Under rows of spotlights in steel frames that purportedly suggest a factory plant, Joffrey stars Victoria Jaiani and Stefan Goncalvez happily horse around, turning each other’s bodies into a communal playground. Showing off without shame, they contort themselves with twisting turns, shimmying wiggles as delicate as the bells that punctuate the choreographer’s score. In this game of “You’re ‘It’” nobody loses.

Equally exuberant, Galili’s The Sofa, a gem of bravura burlesque and raucous roleplaying, immediately recalls Donald O’Connor’s tour de force with a mannequin and a divan in “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singing in the Rain. Here Temur Suluashvili and Anna Gerberich cuddle and cut up, jumping around and on a yellow vinyl couch to Tom Waits’ “Nobody Will Ever Love You Like I Do.” They indulge in mock quarrels, gallivanting and cavorting. When the sofa flips over, it’s now a gay couple (Suluashvili and Fernando Duarte). But the shenanigans remain the same.

The well-named Bliss! features six male dances in gray pants and no tops doing lots of lifts to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. Ever undulating and repositioning, the non-linear three-section work, premiered last May at Symphony Center in a collaboration between Joffrey Ballet and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, earns every mood that its movements (musical and physical) make.

Finally, marvelously, The Times Are Racing, concocted by Justin Peck, is a joyous/furious group romp performed by twenty dancers in streetwear and white and black sneakers. It’s performed with disjointed dynamism to a propulsive electronic score by Dan Deacon (whose insistence often recalls Philip Glass). Racing is ostensibly about “the power of protest” — but these dances are so seamlessly showcased that what triumphs across this very busy stage is sheer professionalism rather than any programmatic element.

Enthralling and captivating with its jazzy, loose-limbed theatricality, flailing, swaying, leaping or gyrating in perfect tandem, this 2017 “sneaker ballet” is youth on edge and in synch. Particularly powerful are the effortlessly smooth duos between Edson Barbosa and Greig Matthews, flawlessly fancy free as they mirror each other marvelously.

Not every dance on the program looked as stunningly together as this final winner. It’s enough to remind us how much greater a corps de ballet can be than the sum of its partners. More was never less.

photos by Cheryl Mann

The Times Are Racing
The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B.Wells Drive
ends on February 23, 2020
for tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Joffrey

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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