Review: Joffrey Ballet / Detroit Opera House / March 1& 2, 2014

By Julie Gervais

The Joffrey Ballet brought a perfectly-balanced program to the Detroit Opera House last weekend, March 1 & 2. It was an affirmation of what has always mattered about ballet, and a strong indicator of why ballet will continue to matter no matter how many people have tried to stick a fork in it.

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet Chor. Jerome Robbins

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet
Chor. Jerome Robbins

The freshness of Jerome Robbins 1945 Interplay is untarnished by the years, but is now a kind of period freshness. Time has not subtracted a single bit of fun from this work. Its construction is so careful that it creates the impression of carefree whimsical play, bubbling over with the exuberance of the (soon to be) post-war American spirit.  The group (8 dancers) engages in friendly competitions, starts chain reactions, tries to outdo themselves and each other. They might be on the brink of adulthood or maybe just shy of it – old enough to play at sexual innuendo yet young enough to not take it too seriously. There’s a fun time travel aspect, as occasional flashes appear of the iconic style and choreography that would eventually blossom into West Side Story, still 12 years in the future. There is abundant nostalgia these days for what some call the ‘pre-ironic age’. Whether that ever really existed or not, the piece is easy to love.

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain, now one of Christopher Wheeldon’s worldwide signature works, is like one long breath. Its ability to capture and hold attention, using just the push and pull of emotional ties between two people, is a tribute to the power of dance. With his score, (Spiegel Im Spiegel, or Mirrors In The Mirror) Arvo Part proves that minimalist music can find a heart connection on what is, for most people, the first hearing. If perhaps Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili might have showed a bit more of the contrast between moments of closeness and moments of apart-ness, this was still a beautiful interpretation.

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Stanton Welch

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet.
Chor. Stanton Welch

The next piece was the blockbuster of the program. Stanton Welch’s Son Of Chamber Symphony is everything that is great about contemporary ballet. It opens against a projection of bold square architectural lines against low light. The ballerina’s saucer-style tutu, a creation made possible by 21st century fabric technology, holds its shape and flatters the leg line without the traditional frou-frou underlayers of supporting tulle and net. The men’s tunics honor and yet depart from tradition with a cutaway in the chest that reveals their – gasp! – chests. Anastacia Holden’s exquisite movement quality sets up the entire ballet – calm and confident, she owns it with a special fierceness that is often the claim of ballerinas whose proportions don’t necessarily reflect current ideals. The ballet takes on deconstruction of tradition as a sort of investigation. What if…we put ‘expected’ steps and shapes in a few unexpected places? Or unpacked the whole idea of a final climaxing pas de deux just to see what makes it tick, and whether it can tick differently? It’s fascinating and compelling and purposely funny at times, such as in the role-reversal promenade in which the ballerina in parallel bourree supported her man’s one-legged tour lente. Or when the principal ballerina makes her way slowly in a downstage diagonal through a sea of identically dressed women – latter-day shades or swans. It feels rich in imagery but austerely so, not opulent. Think Silicon Valley rather than Moscow. It is danced super clean and with an urgency that can give meaning to abstraction. It’s as though the dancers are hell-bent on sharing their acquired knowledge and insight into the music (John Adams’ work by the same name). This commitment to communicate is a key piece of the work’s success. There is much contemporary ballet that confuses an austere esthetic with emotional emptiness, or that fails to use movement to illuminate the music and the reason for the choreographer’s interest in it. Son Of Chamber Symphony is simply fabulous and deserves a long life on the stage.

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp’s crowd-pleasing Nine Sinatra Songs was the crowd-pleasing closer, a smart choice even though it’s not from her ‘best of’ collection. Some steps are re-used to the point of redundancy, some simply don’t work very well and the scale of it looked a little lonely on the DOH stage. But this 30-year old piece earns its place in permanent rotation through Tharp’s keen showmanship. Lucas Segovia deserves special mention for his comedy skills, hitting just the right notes to put a hilarious spin at just the right times. Everyone left with a song in their hearts.


REVIEW: Stars of Russian Ballet Gala

By Julie Gervais

Power Center for the Performing Arts

August 18, 2012

Alisa Sodoleva. Stars of Russian Ballet Gala 08.18.12 (c) Gene Schiavone

With the presentation of its third Gala on Saturday night, Russian Artists International/Ballet Russe took another graceful step forward.

Its mission, the presentation of classical ballet in the Russian tradition, is unique in the area and thus requires some clarification. Does it mean, as some in the audience wondered, that all of the dancers come straight from Russia? No. Does it mean that inclusion of new work by contemporary choreographers is a departure from the mission? Again, no. It means, as the work illustrates, that dancers trained in the exactingly specific Russian method continue to dominate the ranks of the world’s major ballet companies for a very good reason. And, that no matter where they were born or where they dance now or what work they perform, they do ballet like no one else. The crowd at the Power Center seemed to appreciate this.

The structure of a Gala evening is ultimately a tease, and no doubt many people look forward to the day when the Company will be able to present work in longer formats. That said, the only choice is sit back and enjoy the rapid-fire assortment of greatest hits. Those hits were interspersed this year with several excellent contemporary works, following the kickoff with two dances performed by the excellent students of the Russian Ballet Intensive. There were many wonderful moments.

Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvuigin, Stars of Russian Ballet Gala. 08.18.12 (c) Gene Schiavone

Maria Kochetkova is a Principal Dancer at San Francisco Ballet, and has a most remarkable movement style, velvety even in her sharpness of attack. She is precise without being perfunctory, full of care for every step yet simultaneously somehow carefree in her overall impression. Her first appearance was in a contemporary piece, Yuri Possokhov’s ‘Diving Into the Lilacs’, a title that reportedly has symbolic significance to Russians (and sounds like some kind of outdoor misadventure to the rest of us). The piece is kind of inscrutable in this excerpted section. There’s a lot of yearning and angst and swoopy lines and mysterious events, like when she lies down flat on the floor for a while. In the absence of context, the dance serves as a sort of physical manifestation of emotional state – and that’s plenty.

Sergei Sidorskyi, the leading Principal of the National Ballet of Ukraine, is similarly

Sergei Sidorskyi

confounding – how can a dancer be simultaneously so gallant, yet totally nonchalant? How does he take total command of the stage with confident authority, yet also come across as a most affable fellow? In addition to his classical work in La Bayadere and Don Quixote, he showed a solo that he choreographed for himself. It’s a fair guess that A. Vivaldi would be either very pleased by it, or rather envious, as the whole theater kind of gasped when Mr. Sidorsyki’s open shirt came all the way off.

Keenan Kampa

A fair amount of buzz anticipated the appearance of Keenan Kampa, a young American dancer who graduated from the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg and has just become the first American to join the famous Mariinsky Theatre there. She’s another study in contrasts – so young and American in her look (I would say California, except that she’s from Virginia) yet self-possessed with the formal polish of Russian training. It will be fun to follow her trailblazing career.

Courtney Richardson (a Detroit native) and her partner Ernesto Boada showed two contemporary pieces: Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘After the Rain’, and ‘Sweet Spell of Oblivion’ by David Dawson, who is the choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Their work together seems highly charged, and

Ms. Richardson is shocking in her beauty and in the luxuriousness of her shapes and lines. As ‘Sweet Spell’ got underway, I felt my jaw drop open and stay there. It’s sexy and gorgeous and urgent and a little crazy; seeming only tethered to reality by Bach’s music. This is a great example of the kind of innovative work well underway in Europe, where the developed tastes lead to more open experimentation that our American free market will support.

Courtney Richardson and Ernesto Boada, Stars of Russian Ballet Gala. 08.18.2012 (c) Gene Schiavone

Olga Pavlova is a consummate Russian ballerina. In dance training, one is often coached to ‘fully commit’ to the movement and I know of no other ballerina that shows this idea so clearly. She and Andrey Ivanov had one of the most difficult spots on the program when they had to swing the audience back to hardcore classical directly following the Wheeldon piece. It would intimidate all but the best.

Olga Pavlova

Mr. Ivanov, a soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre who also danced with Ms. Pavlova in Carmen near the top of the show, is credited with the choreography for the Finale, but unmentioned as the possible architect of some highly mischievous shenanigans taking place in the last parts of the Don Quixote pas de deux sequence. Suffice it to say that the Russians, contrary to what some believe, have a highly developed sense of humor and don’t take themselves all that seriously.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Gala: August 17, 2013. The students of the Russian Ballet Intensive and the Stars of the Russian Ballet Gala look forward to surprising you.







Meg Paul, Program Director, Complexions Detroit Summer Intensive

dp: Detroit is one lucky city! This is Complexions’ first summer intensive outside of NYC. How did that happen?

dp: And it looks like the program is a big success! Lots of students!

dp: So it sounds like it bodes well for a repeat next year?

dp: Dancers today need to train and become proficient in a wide variety of styles. How do you feel this generation of students is managing to balance all of these demands while still building basic technique?

dp: And how do you and the other teachers feel overall about the level of training of students coming in to the program?

dp: Is there one big change you can single out, in a perfect world, that we can make as dance educators today to improve the overall dance scene?

dp: Overall influence of the television dance scene on theatre/concert dance: positive or negative? I happened to see an interview with Dwight Rhoden after an episode of SYTYCD and the interviewer was not aware of the existence of the Company. How do we leverage the popularity of dance on TV into more overall support?