The Joffrey Ballet
Photo: Cheryl Mann

The Joffrey Ballet

on tour in Berkeley

Artistic Director: Ashley Wheater
Cal Performances
Zellerbach Auditorium
Mar. 6-7, 2020
Reviewed Mar. 6, 2020
Joffrey Ballet

James: You spoke about Joffrey having been cutting edge. Is today’s Joffrey in step with the original company?

Toba: It’s an entirely different kind of company, not as self-confident, not the same unsinkable esprit de corps, and the repertoire is more diffuse. I am tempted to say that the name Joffrey will become an albatross as time goes on unless some serious self-interrogation takes place.

James: Which was the strongest piece for you, and which was the weakest?

Toba: To me, Justin Peck’s “The Times are Racing” was the strongest, mostly thanks to the shaping, pacing and its correspondence to the music. “Bliss,” by Stephanie Martinez  disappointed because it came off as  “pretty” in a static way, instead of delineating a path to authentic beauty. How about you?

James: I completely agree. There’s a soft shoe duo in Peck’s piece, danced by Edson Barbosa and Greig Matthews. These two really nail it! What’s wonderful about that duet is that it has a clear choreographic voice. It knows who and what it wants to be. Though I tend to be wary of sneaker ballets for being pedestrian, Peck’s piece anchors the program. It’s unfortunate that both “Commedia”] by Christopher Wheeldon and the Martinez piece come off as purposeless, leaving the impression that they are there only as program filler. A work needn’t be literal, musically, but there has to be a comprehensive relationship between the movement and the music. Neither piece establishes that relationship. If it weren’t for a curtain between both works, they would seem interchangeable.

Toba: Let’s talk about  Nicolas Blanc’s piece “Beyond the Shore” [a co-commission with Cal Performances].

James: “Beyond the Shore” had a discernible style and voice. The sixties-inspired sci-fi score created an otherworldly atmosphere. Whether that atmosphere is your cup of tea or not, the world Blanc creates is unmistakable. While we were watching it, you made an observation about a portion of the score. What was that?

Toba: In the black tutu pas de deux, there was dialogue that was intentionally semi-inaudible. I found it distracting to the point of disrupting the mood that Blanc had so successfully layered in   up to that point. On the other hand, I found that I could not take my eyes off of Victoria Jaiani. She’s got amazing timing and attack, without sacrificing a scintilla of sensibility.

James: Overall, what did you think of the Nic Blanc piece?

Toba: It felt truthful—I fully believed it. Mason Bates’ score used bells and a simulated foghorn. In combination with the undulating streams of sea creatures, it became a place I wanted to be in with the dancers. The interpolating canons made for a fascinating nautical shaping. Most exceptional was that in this piece you saw the ensemble work that characterized the original Robert Joffrey company, and yet each dancer made visible who his or her character was, which is an unusual find in current-day contemporary works.

Toba: Let’s go back to the Peck piece for a moment. You mentioned something interesting about the music.

James: Yes, I researched the composer Dan Deacon, and discovered that his shows are interactive with the audience. I’ve heard people express a dislike for electronic music in ballet works. Despite such predispositions, Deacon’s music won this audience over.

James: After seeing this show, what’s your sense of The Joffrey company identity?

Toba: I think it is “The Joffrey” in name only. That doesn’t have to be a negative unless the name invites expectations that go unfulfilled because the company leans on the name without cultivating a post-Robert Joffrey/Gerald Arpino personality of its own and its era. I say this because we’ve learned that it can no longer be counted upon to present Robert Joffrey works or those of his former collaborator, Gerald Arpino. Those pieces—for me it was Arpino’s “Sea Shadow” with Lisa Bradley and Paul Sutherland–and the dancers they were made on: Trinette Singleton, Gary Chryst, Christian Holder, Sutherland, Bradley, and others, and in later years, Fabrice Calmels and April Daly (who is still with the company, and among its finest dancers), and Rory Hohenstein, lent it its distinctive style and flair. That’s what largely goes missing and needs to be restored if Joffrey is to have not just a name, but a face.

Singer & Son

Toba Singer and James Gotesky                     

San Francisco ,
Singer & Son James Gotesky and Toba Singer announce the launching of Singer & Son, a joint arts writing venture. “Singer & Son” looks forward to covering arts events in the San Francisco Bay Area and arts venues around the globe. Using a “Siskel & Ebert” format, each writer will share his or her appreciation of a performance or event. Singer & Son will also conduct interviews and co-author feature articles. Toba Singer author of “First Position: a century of ballet artists” (Praeger, 2007) and “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida, 2013), was nominated for the LASA (Latin American Student Association) Award, the de la Torre Research and Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award. She has been Artist in Residence at Santa Fe College, and was the University of Florida Author Representative to the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. James Gotesky danced with Boston Ballet II, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and was a Soloist with Houston Ballet. He writes for The Advance, an online music magazine, and has taught at Houston Ballet Academy and Conservatorio de Danza de Mexico. In 2010 he was named Eligible Bachelor No. 13 in 100 Most Eligible Bachelors In the U.S. For more information: