The Joffrey Ballet Les Presages – review

The Joffrey Ballet Les Presages – review

The Joffrey Ballet

Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, Los Angeles

March 22-24, 2007

Los Angeels Music Center Website

Once upon a time Los Angeles was the lucky host to The Joffrey Ballet (1982 – 1992) as a resident company performing two, three week, seasons annually. Alas, we had a love but could not keep her. So we wished, a not so fond, farewell and America’s number three ballet company moved on to Chicago periodically stopping by to remind us all of what we have been missing. Back then dance audiences were sparse and made more so by scathing reviews from Los Angeles’ reigning dance critic. Once he had successfully chased the Joffrey away he had the hubris or chutzpa to write a hand wringing obituary taking the city to task for not supporting ballet when such a major company was in our own backyard.

Times have changed. Those reviews are largely forgotten, and The Joffrey returns for whirlwind visits on a regular basis, greeted by enthusiastic and substantial audiences. They are not perfect, but oh, they are wonderful to watch. This week they have presented two sharply different programs. One, modern ballet to live music, the other program comprised of contemporary dance to pop favorites such as Prince and a selection of Motown artists. Los Angeles is a stop in a national tour that will continue on to Ravinia and several Iowa venues with varying programs.

Les Presages, choreographed by Leonide Massine to Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony, competently executed by The Joffrey Ballet Orchestra, opened the first program. This 1933 creation portrays man’s continual struggle against destiny. Closing the program, The Green Table, set to a piano score by F.A. Cohen in 1932 and splendidly played by Paul Lewis and Munchimeg Buriad, supplied a rewarding finale with its depictions of the inhumanities and corruption of war and the meaningless posturing of diplomats in the face of disaster. Unfortunately, the filling for this hearty sandwich was Apollo, created a few years earlier but, as danced Thursday night. seemingly made more of fluff than of substance. Surely Balanchine and Stravinsky did not intend for their collaboration, Apollo, a showcase of dance tableaux and purity of line, to bring titters to the audience. Nor did Calvin Kitten, Apollo, convey the cool strength of a god. Suffice it to say this was Balanchine as interpreted by a worshipper of Twyla Tharp.

Presage and Green Table were written in the tense period between the wars. Europe was still reeling from the ravages of World War I, Nazism was gaining strength as Hitler was gaining power; the great depression threw its shadow over all. The Green Table opens and closes with dancers as caricatures of formal diplomats, masked and in tails, grouped around a green table, bowing and scrapping to one another with elaborate manners performed to delightful ragtime piano only to end with all of them firing guns. The main body of the work is composed of the realities of war: youthful bravado which turns to loss and fear, domination by repressive leaders, bereft mothers, the inevitable brothels near the fields. The music is somber, war is real. The diplomats return to their meaningless gestures and the guns go off again. The Joffrey has a history of social relevance and watching this program it is hard not to reflect on current realities. Presages reminds of the inevitabilities.

The strength of the company’s performance lay in the precision and expressiveness of the corps. Often acting more as a single organism than a group of dancers their musicality was stunning. The presence of live music intensified the effect. The corps outshone the soloists in both Presages and The Green Table, but the totality of the experience made one regret the city’s having lost a cultural icon. Hopefully, with the increased number of companies performing here, Los Angeles will develop a company of its own.

Karen Weinstein

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Santa Fe, NM
Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."