Live review | Joffrey Ballet | “Rising Stars”
Diverting the arc of its focused, occasionally-stellar season thus far, the Joffrey Ballet stumbled on May 4 with the reveal of its Chicago closer, “Rising Stars.” (The program at the Auditorium Theatre.) Yuri Possokhov’s world premiere Bells, to seven Rachmaninoff works for piano—a Plan B to the announced score, Rach’s second piano concerto—was for the most part the exception, as the generally well-crafted, beautifully designed dance waits until its end to fall clumsily apart.
But before the distended curtain-lowering during Bells’s epilogue—perhaps meant to evoke a sunset, it’s more like watching someone take a painfully long time to “slip out” of a party—irrepressible Russianness bleeds into Bells like it emanates from Tilda Swinton’s Emma Recchi in I Am Love. Folk-dance–inflected ensemble scenes rush the stage with action, sidestepping unison, often in ingenious ways.
Its first duet, between Matthew Adamczyk and Yumelia Garcia, smartly references the iconic, third-act solo from Raymonda—a 19th-century Russian ballet set in Hungary—at the same time it evokes the great Balanchine “leotard” ballets of the mid-20th. There’s rich tension between the Old World container of the choreography’s motifs and torqued, contemporary technique. (Think Ferrari V-12 dropped into a Lada 2107.)
The dancers seem to enjoy this mix. Victoria Jaiani lays it on thick to delicious effect in a mournful womens’ trio; in a later duet, Valerie Robin, recalling Drew Jacoby more with every performance, peels Fabrice Calmels’s arms off of her legs as if they’re a pair of wet jeans. Sandra Woodall’s costumes, trimmed in Romanov red, combine harmoniously with Jack Mehler’s gauzy lighting as well as with Possokhov’s allusions to past, present and place. Again, he could rethink the ending—and 86 those cheek-kisses-of-death in the finale—but overall, it’s a keeper, and profoundly musical at times. Tag-team and four-hand playing by pianists Mungunchimeg Buriad and Joffrey music administrator Paul James Lewis lends an additional layer of presence.
Neither concerned much with its grab-bag score nor any invention whatsoever, Edwaard Liang’s world premiere closer, Woven Dreams, is a wet pair of jeans you can’t take off. Wrapped in Jeff Bauer designs of ice-blue Lycra with overtly literal appliqué—Johnny Weir would be proud—it could be any number of second-rate ballets I saw and danced in the late-’90s. It rips off Balanchine (Concerto Barocco) and Kylián (Petite Mort) blatantly and repetitively. A mens’ quintet to Britten’s Simple Symphony was well-executed—John Mark Giragosian’s dancing continues to mature at a supersonic pace—but even on the Auditorium’s capacious stage, Liang can’t manage to construct traffic patterns that don’t continually combine too-much-time-to-run with nowhere-left-to-go. When he comes up short on choreography with music remaining, he simply rewinds the tape and replays to fill.
When not boring, it’s awkward; when not awkward, it’s derivative. Its visual motif (dreams and weaving, as in the collective subconscious) couldn’t be less-related to its musical theme (plucky, plucky pizzicato). Liang’s seven selections—the Britten, some Galasso, Górecki and Ravel—barely communicate with the movement they accompany.
Above it all, Bauer’s massive, silvery net billows up and billows down. It’s loosely woven and full of holes.
The one preexisting work, opener Night (2000), by Julia Adam, isn’t so offensive. It isn’t much of anything, in fact, besides saddled with mundane lite music (by Matthew Pierce) and homely sea-creature costumes (by his brother and former dancer, Benjamin Pierce). Dylan Gutierrez and Anastacia Holden did hit personal highs in the leading roles, proving they’re ready for more in the future. I know I am.