Joffrey Ballet’s “Spring Desire” | Dance review
Six hours before the curtain went up on “Spring Desire,” at the Auditorium Theatre through May 6, Joffrey member Dylan Gutierrez tweeted, “If you forget to enjoy your job as a ballet dancer…you won’t be able to properly execute and it will all be over too soon.” Throughout the program’s closer, Incantations, ten dancers certainly looked like they were having a blast on opening night. Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence (2008) is for six more than that, all of whom threw themselves at its duets and ensemble scenes with gusto.
Incantations is new from Val Caniparoli and gives its cast ample opportunities to enjoy flying high above the safety net of classical technique. Like other works by the San Francisco choreographer, it lands nicely between too easy and being a thankless chore. His roles tend to fit their original interpreters like gloves, and that’s the case again here: Whether pirouetting multiple times off-axis in non-standard shapes (Rory Hohenstein), teasing extra time out of each second through creative phrasing (Yumelia Garcia, Amber Neumann) or catapulting themselves through the air with panache (John Mark Giragosian, Lucas Segovia), everyone was in his or her element throughout.
But like other works by Val Caniparoli, Incantations has about three times as much choreography for the right arm as for the left and is a montage of vaguely ethnic references. Seven large, hanging props look like incense coils; calligraphy on the men’s leggings and bare torsos was too small to read from the house, but it looked sort of Thai, sort of Nepali, sort of Arabic. Russian composer Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky’s Incantations (1996) is for an ensemble of strings—plus electric guitar, amplified piano and celesta, marimbas and vibraphones.
These dancers’ physical firepower deserves more than this Cost Plus World Market milieu, and the constant spiraling—whether small (henna-colored designs on the women’s leotards), medium-sized (partnered rotations and right hands forever stirring the air) or large (traffic patterns that gyre outliers into ensembles and fling them offstage with centrifugal force)—grew repetitive.
Incantations is theme and too little variation; the muzzled erotics in period dress of Innocence is all suggestion and no statement. The Joffrey performs the latter often enough that its most difficult sequences, such as a men’s quartet, have lost their thrill: The steps just aren’t that hard for these performers anymore. Most notably in a centerpiece duet for Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani, this company has grown too accomplished for its Age.
So Jerome Robbins’s In the Night (1970), to four Chopin nocturnes you know, could and should be the knockout main course between Liang’s unfocused starter and Caniparoli’s saccharine swirl. But only the troupe’s first staging of this work for three couples, in October 2008, fully embodied its painterly shades of companionship and dependence.
Robbins dug deep to find the cleanest representation of each fully loaded exchange, from the first couple’s premonitory waltzes to the meetings in the middles of Night’s finale. Unfortunately, despite the Joffrey’s increasing eagerness to conquer physical challenges, it’s abstained from yet another conceptual one.