Review of The Joffrey Ballet’s conclusion of its 2016-17 Season with Global Visionaries including World Premiere of Joy by Alexander Ekman; Chicago Premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s The Miraculous Mandarin and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s popular Mammatus

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By Amanda Runge

On Thursday May 4th I had the pleasure of seeing the Joffrey Ballet close their 2016-17 season with Global Visionaries, including World Premiere of Joy by Alexander Ekman. Also featured was the Chicago Premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s The Miraculous Mandarin, and the return of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s popular Mammatus.

Walking in the lobby of the Auditorium Theatre (Chicago, IL) it was immediately evident to me that I was there for the ballet. There were tall elegantly dressed women of all ages in 3 inch heals walking around with far more grace than I will ever have.

I entered the theater and looked to the stage. There were 2 dancers stretching in casual clothes, as well as the full orchestra was on stage warming up. The effect was amazing for a couple of reasons. One, it was only 7:05 and this was a 7:30 show, so it was a bit early for the entire orchestra to be on stage and two, why were the dancers warming up so late? This begs the question, is this planned or did someone, somewhere make a terrible mistake? The theater was filled with the chaotic sounds of everyone tuning their instrument individually. No one was paying attention to the audience or anyone else on the stage. People were shuffling around trying to find their seats while again, I kept asking, are we supposed to be seeing this?

Stage left there were three ropes hanging from the ceiling of the stage with a metal box center stage. The orchestra was upstage, taking up the entire back. The lights went down and the conductor entered the stage. Two lights that were sitting stage right were lifted up to look like street lights in an alley. The stage was set for the first piece to begin. The Miraculous Mandarin choreography by Yuri Possokhov and music by Bela Bartok started with three male dancers laying by the ropes. A woman then came on stage, and started dancing in the metal box center stage. All of the dancing was in a classical style with strong legs and long extending arms, but the suggestive way the woman was dancing was seductive and very intimate. The story was set. She seduced male dancer after male dancer as the three “thugs” then rob them and they run off stage. Finally, the woman met her match and had a stunning duet with a man dressed entirely in blue. Starkly contrasting to the deep red costumes of the woman and three thugs, the man in blue danced beautifully and with an intensity that was matched by the female dancer. Their duet was filled with passion, lust, and violence until he finally gave into her. The piece was amazing.

The second piece was the world premiere of Alexander Ekman’s Joy. It started with solo piano and all of the dancers coming on stage in nude bikinis and some wearing oversized beige suits. There was a voice over explaining that all of the dancers were asked to do the movement that embodied joy. The dancers all of the stage explode with movements. Some prancing, some jumping, one gentleman doing a handstand. It indeed exuded joy. Everyone in the audience was laughing and pointing at their favorite dancer. The mood of the room immediately lifted. They all exited, and a single woman carrying her shoes came back on stage. She then proceeded to drop them on the floor. With a loud thud, they fell. One by one other ladies came on stage and did the same until all the women were on the stage doing an amazing dance to no music all on pointe shoes. The effect was stunning. Loud percussive noises and beautiful long limbs dancing all together with specific movements that alone might mean nothing, but together had a hypnotizing effect. It finally returned after a stunning duet to the beginning movements of joy. The audience was again completely involved. Once the dance was finished the audience was immediately on their feet.

The final dance of the night was entitled Mammatus choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and music by Michael Gordon. It started in a storm, smoke everywhere. All of the dancers were in black leotards and gloves with tall socks. The piece was a series of quartets, duets, trios, all incredibly dramatic. The drama was continually emphasized by the shadows on the back wall. Neon lights flashed in the background. Then one couple comes out in white and they dance a beautiful duet with a solo violin. Everything slowed down. The audience took a collective sigh and the piece came to a beautiful end.

Overall the night was stunning. Exceptional dancing and beautifully creative choreography. A wonderful night of storytelling that I greatly enjoyed.

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THE JOFFREY BALLET Closes its 2016-17 Season with

Global Visionaries including World Premiere of Joy

by Alexander Ekman

Also featured are the Chicago Premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s The Miraculous Mandarin and return of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s popular Mammatus

At the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University: April 26-May 7, 2017

April 11, 2017 (Chicago, IL) – For its annual spring engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents Global Visionaries, a program of three contemporary works by internationally renowned artists including the World Premiere of Joy by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, the Chicago Premiere of The Miraculous Mandarin by San Francisco Ballet Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, created specifically for The Joffrey Ballet and The Cleveland Orchestra, plus the return of Mammatus by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Global Visionaries is presented in 10 performances only, April 26-May 7, 2017.

“Global Visionaries provides a vibrant look at innovation in dance today by three contemporary choreographers at the height of their careers,” said Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. “In addition to returning works by two creative powerhouses, Yuri Possokhov and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, we’re delighted to work with Alexander Ekman on a fearless world premiere that serves as an antidote to the uncertainty felt by many today. Each of these works brilliantly explores the modern ballet idiom and I’m thrilled to celebrate their visions as we close our season.”

Alexander Ekman once again brings his unique vision to the Joffrey with the world premiere of Joy. Brimming with Ekman’s trademark originality and humor, Joy explores the feeling of joy through dance to serve as a remedy to our uncertain times, incorporating movements based on improvisation with the Joffrey company to showcase the dancer’s individual personalities. A large ensemble work intermixed with a series of solos and duets, Ekman sets Joy to a mix of modern music featuring selections from Grammy-nominated Brad Mehldau Trio’s bluesy interpretation of Buddy Johnson’s Since I Fell for You; experimental rock band Django Django’s psychedelic dance hit, First Light, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes and international music star Moby’s LA5.

Ekman is known for his award-winning collaborations with classical and contemporary companies worldwide with works that both entertain and challenge the observer. Additional works by Ekman in Joffrey’s repertoire include the highly successful Chicago Premiere of Tulle in 2015 along with his wild and rhythmic Episode 31, which had its Joffrey premiere during the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival.

In a unique collaboration with The Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov has created a new work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet: The Miraculous Mandarin, a magnificent tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring a wealthy mandarin to his tragic fate. Set to Béla Bartók’s 1926 score, Possokhov reimagines this story ballet for seven dancers to explore the tragic, dark passions between men and women. The Chicago Philharmonic, led by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck, will provide live accompaniment of Bartok’s score on stage alongside the company during every performance. The Miraculous Mandarin made its world premiere with The Joffrey Ballet and The Cleveland Orchestra in March 2016.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Mammatus returns to Chicago after its world premiere with The Joffrey Ballet in September 2015. This powerful, 20-minute abstract piece features 20 dancers in a series of ensembles and duets and is set to contemporary composer Michael Gordon’s Weather One. A minimalist stage, equipped with tree branches lit with LED lights, sets the scene for Mammatus while dancers represent surreal insects and birds through sinuous and organic movements to explore the nonlinear essence of nature and turbulent cloud formations. Dancer-turned-choreographer, Lopez Ochoa, known for her close collaborations with dancers and fierce improvisational talent, has choreographed critically-acclaimed works for numerous dance companies across the nation and around the world.

Tickets and Schedule

The Joffrey Ballet presents Global Visionaries April 26-May 7, 2017; the full performance schedule is as follows: Wednesday, April 26 at 7:30pm, Friday, April 28 at 7:30pm, Saturday, April 29 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, Sunday, April 30 at 2:00pm, Thursday, May 4 at 7:30pm, Friday, May 5 at 7:30pm, Saturday, May 6 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, Sunday, May 7 at 2:00pm.

Single tickets range from $34-$159 and are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, by telephone 312.386.8905, or online at joffrey.org.

About The Joffrey Ballet

Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly reflecting the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces, and contemporary works.

The Company’s commitment to accessibility is met through an innovative and highly effective education program including the much-lauded Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, Community Engagement programs, and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Global Visionaries Presenting Sponsor Margot and Josef Lakonishok, Live Music Sponsors The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music and Cheryle and Joel V. Williamson as well as Mammatus Production Sponsor Denise Littlefield Sobel, The Miraculous Mandarin Production Sponsor The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation and Joy Production Sponsor The National Endowment for the Arts.

Special thanks to Co-Sponsors of the 2016-2017 Season: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, NIB Foundation, and Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation; Season Partners: pamella roland and Fox Ford Lincoln, ConAgra Brands, Clear Channel Airports, Official Provider of Physical Therapy Athletico; Official Hotel JW Marriott; and Official Health Club Chicago Athletic Clubs.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit joffrey.org.

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