The Joffrey Ballet Dazzles with Energy, Precision, and Elegance

 Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

The Joffrey Ballet, one of the most distinguished dance companies of the nation, performed three shows over the weekend of November 17-19. Besides their superb performances, The Joffrey Ballet also held residency events such as ballet classes and open workshops during the week. As part of their five-year residency program with Cal Performances, The Joffrey Ballet will visit Cal Performances two mores time in the next five years.

The young choreographer Justin Peck has been a topic of conversation for quite a while. His choreography In Creases, which is the first piece of the program, justifies his fame. In Creases is accompanied by two grand pianos on stage playing live Philip Glass’ Four Movements for Two Pianos. The eight dancers form complex geometric shapes and follow distinct patterns, which present a joyous piece for the audience. The presence of the pianos also adds to the visual spectacle of its precise choreography. Peck’s choreography is followed by Nicolas Blanc’s Encounter, which features a sensual pas de deux. The dance is set to John Adams’ Saxophone Concerto, which alludes to Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.

Alexander Ekman’s avant-garde choreography Joy in the second act is a blast. From the moment the curtain starts to lift, the audience knows that something interesting and exhilarating is coming up. The scenery starts with a tree at the corner of the stage. One of the dancers is watering the tree, some other is doing a headstand and cycling his legs in the air. The dancers are all wearing nude colored oversize suits. They are scattered on the stage, running around and having fun. Soon the dancers start taking off their clothes, which may imply them freeing themselves from the norms and burdens of the modern society. The bizarre narrator, which is the voice of Ekman, repeats, “Joy… Joy… Joy…” With the tree reminiscent of the tree of life, the carefree dancers having fun and taking off their clothes, the scenery reminds one of Bosch’s renowned painting The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Then comes the uproarious but still elegant scene of the “shoe drop.” The ballerinas break the fourth wall, as they start dropping their pointe shoes to the ground and shout out how much they enjoy doing so. It is a total chaos, and the audience can’t stop laughing. They soon become unified, as they put on their pointe shoes and start dancing together. Their numerous synchronized jetés across the stage add a powerful dynamic to the choreography.

The idea of the “shoe drop” becomes even more experimental when a pair of stilettos drops from the ceiling. All of a sudden, all the dancers of the company put on high heel stilettos and start dancing wildly. The piece comes to a full circle when the dancers put back on their suits and resume their initial formation. Ekman’s Joy is not only entertaining, but also very thought provoking, which invites the audience to reflect on the aesthetic ideals of the modern society.

 Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

The final piece of the performance Mammatus provides a sublime experience. Mammatus is choreographed by the renowned Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who has worked with more than 40 companies worldwide. Lopez Ochoa explains, “in nature, nothing is symmetrical, so I was looking to create an organic chaos.” Her creation of the organic chaos manifests itself not only in her choreography, but also in the music, stage design, and costumes.

The term “mammatus” refers to mammary clouds, which are clouds in the shape of breasts. The stage becomes filled with smoke at the beginning of the piece, which parallels the title of the piece. The sharp and bright LED lights hanging diagonally from above are reminiscent to lighting bolts, which match the chaotic mood of the stage.

With its fast rhythm, convoluted and repetitive melody, and staccato style, the score Weather One by Michael Gordon contributes to the natural chaos that is performed on stage. Written for a string orchestra, Weather One is amplified and aggressive, just like a stormy weather. The dancers emerge from the “clouds” like birds, all dressed in black leotards, gloves, shoes, and high socks. Their costume and the stage design set the stage for almost a thriller scene.

The choreography of Mammatus alternates between pas de deux and group dance. It is very fast, sharp, and aggressive. Ochoa notes that she has used improvisation in her choreography, which she considers to be the most organic way of working. The dancers transcend their human bodies and fly around the stage like birds. The signature peck movement of their heads works as a comic relief.

The final pas de deux of the piece, in which the soloists wear white leotards, creates a stark contrast with the rest of the piece. Not only their costumes, but the pace and the smoother manner of their moves contribute to this duality of the piece.

The Joffrey Ballet’s performance is a memorable experience with the precision and elegance of the dancers, the energy and humor of the choreographies, and the perfect accompaniment of music, costume, and stage design. Each part of the performance complements one another to provide a vivid and beautiful whole. It is a great privilege that the Berkeley audience will continue to have a blast over the next five years with The Joffrey Ballet’s residency program.