The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet
Friday, March 6, 2020
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Choreographic Variety

The center work of the Joffrey Ballet evening was “Beyond the Shore”, a co-commision by Cal Performance for the choreographer Nicolas Blanc, who had appeared with the SF Ballet from 2003 to 2009. He is now ballet master with the Joffrey.

The piece has five ‘movements’ each featuring a central ‘pas de duex’ the first and last last included the corps of the company. Blanc says, ‘…each movement leads us to another world, another environment’. Accompanied by a score by composer Mason Bates’ “The B-Sides,” as in many of today’s dance works, is characterized by a series of amazing lifts, notable by unusual aerial shapes and emphasizing technical virtuosity. My favorite of the lot was the center piece, “Gemini in the Solar Wind” danced by Victoria Jalani and Dylan Gutierrez. The accompaniment includes voices (from space?): the backdrop includes maps (as seen from earth?). The energy was lyric; the duet easy and not extravagantly acrobatic; the mood sustained. “Beyond the Shore” requires an evening when it is the featured work with little else to demand one’s continued attention.

But the Joffrey program offered three move events. The evening opened with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Commedia”. Evoking the 16th century Italian players whose work evolved to everything from ballet to vaudeville, the large cast, dancing to Stravinsky’s music (Pulcinella Suite), presented nine sections, each outfitted in black/white leotards and tights, all bearing geometric shapes characteristic of early designs.

The piece moved very fast featuring standard ballet floor patterns and making sure the audience was delighted by the acrobatic lifts, swings and technical liveliness. “Bliss”, also to a Stravinsky score (Dumbarton Oaks), is characterized, as the choreographer Stephanie Martinez states, “by a melancholy flavor throughout the different movements (of the music).” Six bare chested men and one woman dance the work, following the music’s dedication and narrative about Mildred and Robert Bliss. We do not learn the details of this narrative but we note again (and again) the daring lifts and often acrobatic activities that have become today’s ballet vocabulary.

The long evening ended with Justin Peck’s “The Times Are Racing” to an electronic score by Dan Deacon’s album “America”. It is clear that Peck is a Jerome Robbins’ follower and that he is choreographing a new movie named “West Side Story.”

The Times are Racing” features a lively, jumpy white T-shirt dancer and a black T-shirt challenger, (Edson Barbosa and Greig Matthews). They ‘sort-of’ evoke the Sharks and the Jets. This ‘sneaker’ ballet is characterized by endless variations for the ‘hip” group dancing the street smart but ballet skilled moves that send the audience cheering.

The Joffrey Ballet was a great treat for many who were looking forward to a dance weekend at the SF Ballet’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream”. The times make that impossible. Jeremy Geffen, Executive and Artistic Director of Cal Performances, announced before curtain that Cal Performances will continue its presentations to “refresh and delight audiences” in these difficult times. Bravo!

Alas! As of today, March 12, 2020 Cal Performances has had to cancel performances at least through the end of March.

Joanna G. Harris