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
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
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