Dance Review: JOFFREY STUDIO SERIES (The Joffrey Ballet)

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by Tony Frankel on February 27, 2021

in Dance,Theater-Chicago,Virtual

The world premiere of The Joffrey Ballet’s Boléro, filmed at the Gerald Arpino Black Box Theatre, has been playing since last Friday. Now it has been extended, and I highly recommend a viewing via the Joffrey’s YouTube channel. Boléro is without question the most extraordinary, sensuous, exhilarating virtual event since the COVID-19 shutdown. At the center of the 16-minute piece is Anais Bueno, riveting, emotional, indefatigable, strong, slinky, and ridiculously beautiful. The women do majestic work, but the chorus of men — wearing Temur Suluashvili’s sexy tribal skirts — have incredible poise in tantalizingly taut toe-points, amazing arabesques, and gorgeous grand battements. It is also one of the most perfectly televised dance pieces I have ever seen (direction, Tim Whalen; DP, Michael Kettenbeil; lighting, Jack Mehler; production by Big Foot Media). Named after Ravel’s orchestral work (recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra), Joffrey Company Artist Yoshihisa Arai has defined what I consider the quintessential modern ballet, so fitting with the vision of the company’s founder. I dare you to not get chills.

Part of the company’s recently announced Joffrey Studio Seriesa comprehensive roster of free, virtual programming — from livestream performances and rehearsals to pre-recorded conversations — curated by Joffrey artists during the COVID-19 era. Boléro ends on March 2, but the series continues on March 3 and April 7 when you get to experience the choreographic process via two rehearsal livestreams leading up to the one-time-only performance of Under the Trees’ Voices on April 30 at 7pm CT. More on the series below.

Anais Bueno and ensemble in BOLÉRO. Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

Arai envisions Bueno’s role as a type of muse, evoking an abstract but humanistic quality to the overall feeling of the piece, leading her “disciples” through a serene world of light and shadows. Boléro was originally intended to be performed by Studio Company members of the Joffrey Academy of Dance. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Joffrey to change direction, Artistic Director Ashley Wheater approached Arai with an opportunity to create a new work for the main company (15 members are utilized). With the music established, Arai began working out the details for this more robust piece with a larger cast.

Anais Bueno with Jonathan Dole and Blake Kessler in BOLÉRO.
Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

Next up, the World Premiere of Under the Trees’ Voicesa new 28-minute work by Joffrey Rehearsal Director Nicolas Blanc, will be performed and streamed LIVE on April 30. Featuring 15 Joffrey artists dancing to Symphony No. 2 by Italian composer Ezio Bosso, the performance channels the power of community in the age of social distancing.

The Joffrey Ballet dancers in UNDER THE TREES' VOICES rehearsal.
Courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

In four distinct sections, Blanc imagines a future of hope and unity. In advance of the April 30 performance, viewers also have the opportunity to experience a “window into the Joffrey,” as cameras livestream the rehearsal process on March 3 at 3pm CT and April 7 at 3pm CT.

Nicolas Blanc in UNDER THE TREES' VOICES rehearsal.
Courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

Additional virtual Spring offerings include a reimagined Winning Works, a culmination of Joffrey’s 2020 national call for choreographers of color, which will be performed on the virtual stage by Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company on March 25-26 and April 8-9, 2021. The four winners of the Winning Works choreographic competition — Chanel DaSilvaTsai Hsi HungPablo Sánchez and Durante Verzola — have reimagined their original works to be choreographed for a virtual performance to presented via livestream throughout 2021.

ChanelDaSilva. Photo by Jaqlin Medlock.

Chanel DaSilva’s world premiere of B O R D E R S will stream March 25 at 7pm CT.
B O R D E R S imagines the boundaries—both literal and figurative—that people place on themselves and others. DaSilva challenges the audience to look at how they separate themselves from others in the world, whether through physical means or psychological ones. The 13-minute piece features a cast of 11 artists—ten women and five men.

Tsai Hsi Hung. Photo by Kelly Wang.

Tsai Hsi Hung’s Brushstroke will stream on March 26 at 7pm CT.
Brushstroke takes inspiration from the work of designer Alexander McQueen and painter Jackson Pollack. Using “the line” as a central theme, Hung weaves a series of complex textures through movement that create the effect of currents of wind winding around each other. The 12-minute piece features a cast of eleven artists—eight women and three men.

Pablo Sanchez. Photo by Marcus Menefee.

Pablo Sánchez’s world premiere of ¡VIVA! will stream on April 8 at 7pm CT.
¡VIVA! celebrates the Joffrey Academy’s tenth anniversary year and its ongoing commitment to presenting works by under-represented groups of artists. Sánchez is inspired by his native México in creating a fresh and vibrant work titled ¡VIVA!, using music by composers Manuel Ponce and José Pablo Moncayo. “It’s an illustration of Mexican tradition with a splash of the colorful spirit for which México is beloved in our world.”

Durante Verzola. Photo by Joel Thomas.

Durante Verzola’s world premiere of Ballet de Cour will stream on April 9 at 7pm CT. 
Ballet de Cour features a cast of 15 and evokes the courtly nature of classical ballet’s 17th-century origins. The piece is danced to music by Frédéric Chopin (based on a theme by Mozart) and steeps itself in neoclassical technique, with the women dancing in pointe shoes. Through the many “micro dramas and stories” inspired by the music, Verzola uses Chopin’s lively score to explore the dancer’s innate desire to move and express it.

Winning Works Choreographer Chanel DaSilva. Courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

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