Joffrey's "Bold Moves"

Preview of the wide-ranging program of the Joffrey Ballet's winter production, the second in their grand 60th season celebration


By Jordan Reinwald


​From the Winter 2016 Issue of Clef Notes Journal

Joffrey Ballet's Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein FOrgotten Land (photo by Herbert Migdoll).

Comprising its winter season production, the Joffrey Ballet’s highly anticipated "Bold Moves" program provides considerable contrast from its evening length Sylvia, performed by the company in October, and its classic, The Nutcracker, coming in December. "Bold Moves" follows the same vein as September’s "Millennials" in showcasing a handful of shorter pieces, allowing audiences to experience several different wide ranging flavors within one evening. "Bold Moves" brings Joffrey Ballet into the second half of a very big season: its 60th Anniversary season. Paying extra attention to how the company fosters experiences for its audiences during this season, Ashley Wheater, artistic director for the Joffrey, explains, “I look at our season and we have full length ballets (Sylvia, The Nutcracker) and evenings of newer works ("Millennials"), so for me, when I put programs together, (I look for) what makes a really fulfilling evening in terms of music and dance, in terms of where the company’s at, and also in terms of where we want to take our audience. So I think that every time we perform we’re providing an education for everybody: the audience, the dancers, the company.”

The education for this particular bill is long-time crowd favorite, Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land, Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU (originally created for San Francisco Ballet), and a world premiere by Ashley Page, former artistic director of The Scottish Ballet. Though the works vary greatly in genesis, Wheater explains that the throughline is the bold music and the abstraction of narrative in each of the works. These works do indeed have to live up to the name of the evening. “The program is very bold in its delivery,” Wheater told me. “…Very bold in its abstraction but also in its narrative…I think the work of this particular program is demanding on the company, but they also relish the challenge.”

If Cinderella, to be performed by the company in April, harkens to the precise ability of the Joffrey Ballet to perform classical works, and if the very last chance to see Robert Joffrey’s version of The Nutcracker is a sweet goodbye to the past 60 years for the company, then "Millennials" and "Bold Moves" are the fiery statements for which the company points toward its future.

In January, Ashley Page arrives to the Joffrey Ballet to begin creation of the new work making its premiere in "Bold Moves." As of now, the work will be sandwiched between the other two works: narrative-by-nature (RAkU), and narrative-driven (Forgotten Land). When asked whether the new creation will follow in this narrative realm, Wheater explained, “(Ashley Page’s) work has an intensity about it, and I think because of that tension, there is depth and many layers. So you could say that there is kind of an abstract narrative. There are relationships in the piece that I think will evolve.”

As a choreographer, Ashley Page, brings his experience and proven results. Upon his appointment as artistic director of The Scottish Ballet in 2001, Page essentially rebuilt the company into the edgy, contemporary ballet company that it is today. Page’s accomplishments include training and a career at the Royal Ballet, where he worked closely with Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan. He also worked with choreographers Glen Tetley and Richard Alston, who became his choreographic mentor. Page is no stranger to making bold moves, leaving little doubt that this new commission for Joffrey will differ. Wheater explains that Page will have approximately five weeks of the creation process, using three or four of those weeks to fashion the work and the last two to hone it and get it ready for performances.

At the time of this interview, Wheater explained that he knew little about what audiences can expect from the new work. There are two principal couples, a pas de trois for three women, a duet for two men, and an additional pas de trois with both genders. The music is a violin concerto called Concentric Paths written by composer Thomas Adés, who has been making waves for his own bold moves in the music world lately. Aside from these small nuggets, Wheater offer little more about the new work. He creates anticipation for the premiere noting,  “I think that by the nature of the process, we (will be) involved with the work so intensely that we can just keep carrying that through into the first performance.” Elaborating, he says, “some companies rehearse ballets months and months before they dance them, but there are some times when you rehearse the work and then you go straight into performance. I think I love that process of taking it directly to the stage because I think it builds so much energy into the performance that it’s just going to happen. It makes you work in a different way both mentally and physically

Alongside the world premiere is Jiří Kylián’s 1981 work, Forgotten Land, a work that explores memories, events and people that are lost over time or forgotten and how people sometimes vainly try to recover them-- or a sense of them--in order to regain their former power and value. The work itself is inspired and based on a painting of women on a beach by the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch. It is not a new work, even to Joffrey audiences, but it has the potential to take on new meaning when juxtaposed against the other two pieces on the bill.

Finally, RAkU is a ballet made by Yuri Possokhov to music he commissioned from Shinji Eshima, originally for the San Francisco Ballet. The première took place in February, 2011 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and is based on the 1950 burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion. The work tells the narrative but moves its plot to an earlier time period. According to the original program notes for the piece, Possokhov adopted a style similar to Noh theater, presenting the essence of a story rather than a literal depiction. This looseness allows for the narrative quality of the Bold Moves’ programming, but doesn’t necessarily push it to break away completely into a strictly narrative-ballet realm.

Wheater made a point of conveying that this new production will create a deeper connection with Joffrey audiences, that what they’ll encounter in February will be  “powerful, deeply emotional contemporary ballet…the language is hybridized. So it’s theater, and it’s highly physical dance,” and that alone is reason enough not to miss a moment of it.

Joffrey Ballet's "Bold Moves" will run February 10 - 21, 2016 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Visit auditoriumtheatre.org for more details.

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