The Joffrey Ballet

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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Choreographer Justin Peck’s minimalistic “In Creases” started off this weekend’s Joffrey Ballet performance at Zellerbach Hall with a piano work by Philip Glass, “Four Movements For Two Pianos.” With two pianos facing each other mirror-like, the black pianos dressed the stage as both instruments and set, contrasting the all-white costumes and brightly lit set. One of Glass’s more opulent works, “Four Movements For Pianos” only occasionally uses his signature repetitive arpeggios. To this lush score, performed by Grace Kim and Matthew Long, Peck created minimal, often repetitive movement that both contrasted the score and at times moved to it precisely. This is one of Peck’s earliest works and least adventurous, staying close to ballet lines and formula, but admirably performed by eight dancers who end the piece with popcorn leaps out of a cluster, timed to Glass’s pounding cords.

“Encounters” by choreographer Nicolas Blanc also featured the music of another contemporary minimalist composer, the Bay Area John Adams, whose sultry and jazzy music created a much warmer environment for a pas de deux with Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani. Velazquez, in his skivvies, handsomely started the piece as a solo on a rectangular platform that later doubled as a bed to make love to Jaiani. Alexander V. Nichols’ warm lighting and smoke-filled stage all added to the sensual aspect of this elegant piece. Jaiani danced eloquently with Velazquez who supported her through long leg extensions and lifts while dancing as much and as lyrically as she. “Encounters” also stuck close to ballet narratives of, a man and woman being romantic, man and woman in conflict, man and woman reconciled.

“Joy”, Alexander Ekman’s commissioned work by The Joffrey in association with Cal Performances, World Premiered in April and its West Coast Premiere tonight. “Joy” was immediately out of the box and playful, using the entire company of 30 and stripping the stage down to its cinder block back wall, with one living tree positioned upstage. The curtain went up on a sprinkling of dancers in headstands, bellies showing, one leaping around, another watering the tree, all doing their own thing, the thing that brings them joy. Ekman’s voiceover asked the audience, “What are the movements of Joy?” He spoke humorously about members of the company, audience expectations, encouraging the audience to dance at work and, generally teasing the dance into place. The piece started with bluesy music with the Brad Mehldau Trio, sailed through techno jazz, and includes a soundscape by Moby. When all of the female dancers rebelliously dropped their ballet shoes on the ground and literally let their hair down, they replaced their slippers for nude colored heels that fell from the sky, as a neon flamingo also descended. They then marched across the stage barely clad, hair swaying, defiantly tribal and anarchistic. The image evoked Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen heels in a sort of otherworldly fashion runway of flamingos. But the women alone didn’t dance in heels, the entire male members join them, also scantly clad and with attitude. Solos peeled away from these mass formations by lying on the floor or walking contrary to the naughty girl formations. They flocked around a male soloist who is in awe as birds chirp, and follow his lead in bouncing and seeing what he is seeing, all performed with slapstick timing. “Joy” was wildly fun, and popular—and more dance-theater than ballet.

The evenings crowning touch was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus” to Michael Gordon’s sweeping string music, “Weather One.” With its classical jazz-like ballet moves of unusual twists and configurations, cabaret-like costuming—black leotards with long sleeves, gloves, and mid calve black stockings, set against a red washed scrim, and a suspended sculpture of fluorescent tubes that alluded to lightning and thunder. (Costumes and scenic design by perfectionist Dieuweke van Reij.) “Mammatus” was momentous from start to finish, fast paced, never pausing between its five movements that go from trio to a series of duets and showed off the company’s dazzling talent for timing and precision. It’s a piece worth coming back to, as it’s impossible to keep up with all its intricacies the first time around.

David E. Moreno

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