Abundant Eye Candy in Joffrey’s ‘Bold Moves’ (review)

The contemporary works on Joffrey’s latest (through Feb. 21 at the Auditorium Theatre) have little in common, once again showing off the company’s versatility in a program that is bound to have something for everyone. There is something old (Jirí Kylián’s Forgotten Land), something new (world premiere Tipping Point by Ashley Page), something borrowed (Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU on loan from San Fransisco Ballet), and lots of blue in an ambitious and challenging program titled “Bold Moves”.

“New work is the lifeblood of the art form,” says Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater in an introductory video at the top of the show. Indeed, Ashley Page’s world premiere is teeming with life. In creating Tipping Point, Page opted for an edgy mood and dramatic visual landscape in lieu of any sort of plot.  Long time collaborator Jon Morrell employed shimmery jewel tones in his translucent backlit panels upstage and costumes overlaid with black sheer fabric. Morrell’s design choices are accentuated by David Finn’s meticulous lighting, which, on a less robust company might appear overbearing. Tipping Point is set directly on The Joffrey Ballet, however, and Page’s intricate choreography plays to the unique strengths of this particular group of dancers, capitalizing on their long, bendy legs and ability to partner each other in all sorts of interesting combinations.

Dancers Lucas Segovia, Amanda Assucena & Yoshihisa Arai in "Tipping Point" | Photo by Cheryl Mann
Dancers Lucas Segovia, Amanda Assucena & Yoshihisa Arai in “Tipping Point” | Photo by Cheryl Mann

Presumably one of the most difficult scores attempted by conductor Scott Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic, Thomas Adès’ violin concerto Concentric Paths was Ashley Page’s playground in Tipping Point, a work largely inspired by music he doesn’t appear to follow in any particular way. Violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams, like the piece’s 12 dancers, made something really, really hard appear effortless, and while I can honor and appreciate the fortitude it takes the dancers and musicians to perform this work, its stars are the designs – Morrell’s metallic scenery and costumes and Finn’s sumptuous lights.

Jeraldine Mendoza & Yoshihisa Arai in "RAkU" | Photo by Cheryl Mann
Jeraldine Mendoza & Yoshihisa Arai in “RAkU” | Photo by Cheryl Mann

Opening the program is Forgotten Land, an early Kylián work that made its Joffrey debut in 1985 while Ashley Wheater was a dancer in the company. Reviews of this piece have gone up and down throughout the years; it is perhaps better received by dancers than the public, and indeed, Forgotten Land looks like a joy to dance. Despite its European influences, Forgotten Land tugs softly on the aesthetics of American choreographers Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille. A glimmer of Kylián’s quirk, which would come more to the forefront as his choreography matured, is complimented by many passes of pure technique and a sweeping Benjamin Britten score. The poignant moments are at the front of the piece, in the quiet moments when the dancers face upstage, glancing at a gorgeous color-shifting backdrop, taking five steps forward and three steps back.

The evening’s third act is a repeat of one of last season’s acquisitions: Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU. A casting change caused this stunning work to loose a little of its punch, particularly Jeraldine Mendoza’s performance as the Princess, who simply can’t replicate the passion and drama of Victoria Jaiani or Christine Rocas as the role’s usual suspects. Mendoza’s soft, sweet demeanor is lovely on stage, better suited to the Sugar Plum Fairy than a tormented Japanese Princess. Nonetheless, RAkU shines in an otherwise plotless program, capping a night of visual delights.

Bold Moves continues through Feb. 21 at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University (50 E. Congress Pkwy). Tickets are $32-155, available at Joffrey Tower (10 E. Randolph), the Auditorium Theatre box office, and all Ticketmaster locations, by phone (800) 982-2787, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.