The Joffrey Ballet
Friday, March 6, 2020
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley
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
Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser.
Choreography: Lucinda Childs: Words and Music: David Lang
Friday, February 28, 2020
Alas, “The Day”
When talented artists share a program there are risks and rewards. In “The Day”, former ballerina Wendy Whelan dominates the performances. She was a remarkable performer at the NYC Ballet for 30 years. She was recently appointed Associate Artistic Director of that Company. She is 52 years old.
As such, she is a ‘careful’ performer. Lucinda Childs, an excellent, innovative contemporary choreographer has chosen the movement vocabulary very carefully. With such precaution, Whelan moves smoothly, carefully but with a limited vocabulary and above all, limited dynamics. She has extraordinary feet, but little movement of the torso. She uses many props, costume accessories, ropes, cloth and other devises to extend the movement. For this reviewer, the movement was repetitious and dull.
Accompanying her on the cello and on sound track was the music of Maya Beiser. Ms. Beiser has many credits to her name but for this performance she played chords on the cello. The music sound score, by David Lang was recorded. Over this, through the first section of the evening, an unknown voice read the many lines of Lang’s “the day”. All lines start with ‘I” and proceed in alphabetical order through the last “I searched it.” Again, it may be this reviewer’s need for rhythmic variation, but I found the reading routine and deadening.
In the second half, “the world to come”, Whelan changed from a white costume to black tights and top. She and Beiser changed places on stage, Beiser on stage left, Whelan dominating the ramp on stage left. She took many trips up and down the ramp, finally rolling in white cloth to the bottom as other cloths dropped on the back drop. It was all very dramatic but not convincing.
These artists are acclaimed in the varying fields and their program credits are distinguished.Their work is highly esteemed in the contemporary performing art world. The audience was enthusiastic. I was not moved by sound, word nor movement.
Joanna G. Harris