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The Joffrey Ballet : In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated; After The Rain; Age of Innocence

March 4, 2012

Reviewed March 3, 2012

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

When Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet brings a mixed repertoire of contemporary dance to the theatre, it’s worth going to see this unique and innovative company’s amazing dancers perform, if only to bask in the light of their energy and precision.

The Joffrey’s one-night-only bill Saturday opened with veteran choreographer William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, a work first commissioned for the Paris Opera Ballet by Rudolf Nureyev in 1987. Standing the test of time, the dance is a bold and virtuosic work of exactitude, with a large focus on extended arms and flexed hands. The lighting is stark and the set minimalist (two golden cherries hang high above the stage “in the middle, somewhat elevated”), which throws all the emphasis on the dancers, garbed in basic dark emerald-coloured and black leotards and tights. The volume of Thom William’s score is exaggerated, creating somewhat of a distance between audience and stage.

After The Rain, Photograph by Herbert Migdoll

The second presentation, After The Rain, is a two-movement work created by British-born Christopher Wheeldon in 2005. Part One features three couples in simple grey costumes performing a dance of exciting shape and line against a grey scrim. The accompaniment, the first movement of Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa for strings and “altered” piano, is an odd choice of music. “Tabula rasa” is a Latin term meaning “blank slate,” but also refers to an epistemological theory that our knowledge comes from experience and perception. Pärt’s powerfully emotional Spiegel im Spiegel (in German, this means mirror in the mirror), is a deep and enchanting contrast – perfect in fact — for the second movement of After The Rain, when Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili hypnotized with the softest lull of a pas de deux under a warm glowing spotlight. They danced like quiet flames in an unbelievable partnering performance that nearly defies description.

Edwaard Liang, an up-and-coming New York choreographer over the past several years, created the final dance work of the evening, Age of Innocence. While the elegant red drapery backdrop suggests perhaps an 1800s ball room, and Mark Stanley’s shadowed lighting bathes the stage with an old-world look, the dance nevertheless does not take us back in time. It’s more like ideologies from an age when it was in women’s economic interest to find a husband and men were off fighting in the Napoleonic Wars have been infused into a modern-day interpretation of the disturbing “Age of Innocence” of Jane Austen’s time.

In the First Dance movement, featuring eight couples, the women float in long white skirts, and the men wear sporty waistcoats and briefs, giving us a sense of the divide between the genders.

The First Dialogue duet by Christine Rocas and Matthew Adamczyk, as riveting as Rocas’s performance in After The Rain, is nonetheless sadder, more desperate, and more urgent, in keeping with the theme of the work.

The accompaniment for Age of Innocence, by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, is rich and persistent, pushing the choreography to an escalating pitch. By the Parting finale, the women’s long skirts have gone and their little bourrees and delicate postures give a sense of being off balance.

Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels were breathtaking against a background of four other couples in the “Obey Thee” sequence, adding a delicious highlight to this half-hour work performed in five movements.

If it wasn’t for the Rocas and Suluashvili performance in After The Rain, Age of Innocence would have been the plum of the evening.

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From → Ballet

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