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Bonnie Rosenstock


February 16 to 18
Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 W. 55th Street
Presented by Joffrey Ballet Concert Group
Thurs-Sat@7:30 PM
$35; $25 for students; $150 for performance and reception following (on opening night); https://www.joffreyballetschool.com/trainee-program/joffrey-ballet-concert-group/
Reviewed by Bonnie Rosenstock February 17, 2023

The innovative Joffrey Ballet was my favorite contemporary ballet company. The dancers were my equivalent of rock stars, brilliantly performing the works that co-founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, among others, created. To me, they were the antithesis of the staid New York City Ballet. When the company packed up its toe shoes and moved from New York to Chicago in 1995, I was heartbroken.

But they left behind the Joffrey Ballet Center, founded by Joffrey in 1981, which is home to the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group, a pre-professional performing ensemble for young artists selected from the Joffrey Ballet School’s year-round trainee program. (In 2010, the Joffrey also established the Joffrey Academy of Dance as their official school and training program in Chicago.)

For the Spring Gala, February 16 to 18, the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group’s artistic director and resident choreographer, Bradley Shelver, curated an evening of four new works for the 20-member company—two world premieres that he created and two by choreographers Lindsay Grymes and Eric Trope, recipients of the Concert Group’s first Creative Movers Choreographic Initiative.

The 12th Room - photo by Andrew Fassbender for Rachel Neville Studios.

Shelver’s compelling “The 12th Room” consisted of four sections, featuring a moving downstage door and drawing from a music collage by composers Ezio Bossa, Philip Glass, Andrea Falconieri and Olafur Arnalds. The impressive Joliana Canaan is both observer and finally participant in the goings on through the door. In “The Hallway” she is outside the closed door, which slowly moves sideways to the left. She dances, as if she isn’t sure where she is or who she is, with lots of hand gestures to head, face and what I can only describe as manic jazz hands. She knocks on the door, opens it and observes the 13 dancers performing in varying patterns and partnering. At the end of this part, they gather at the open door and use it as a mirror, preening as if to fix their makeup. The door closes. In “The Party,” the door moves to the right and again Canaan dances a similar emotional dance. She knocks again, listens at the door. This is a lively section, with the dancers performing leaps and turns, but not always in sync with each other. There is a pleasant by-the-numbers duet, with no drama or trauma. In “The Neighbors” she opens the door, steps through and witnesses a lovely soloist in a black dress, who steals the show with her long legs, clean lines and extensions, and then joins her in imitation of her movements. Canaan participates with several other dancers. In “The 12th Room” it all comes together as Canaan is now fully integrated into the ensemble and someone closes the door.

Grymes’s “Falter Upward,” according to the press release, is “to celebrate the journey to a goal and the input of other people’s support, knowledge and differing viewpoints.” Music by Dinah Washington, Franz Liszt, Loscil and Nils Frahm’s “Improvisation for coughs and a cell phone,” certainly lives up to “differing viewpoints,” but I still don’t understand that statement related to the choreography.

The action consisted of fast, quick, sharp movements, upper body thrusts, body twitches, stops and starts, spinal moves down, back and forth with uplifted arms, pushing face with hands. It was a very satisfying piece, which the young dancers performed well.

Shelver’s “Random People with Beautiful Parts” featured four women on point and three men in ballet mode, dancing to JS Bach and Hillard Ensemble. The women did their ballet thing and the men did their thing, and the two didn’t much interact. The piece was short, with no lifts, no beautiful grand gestures, just enough to showcase their ballet chops.

Gazebo Dances, photo by Andrew Fassbender for Rachel Neville Studios.

Trope’s “Gazebo Dances,” with music by John Corigliano, was rousing and lively. The 16 dancers were clad in a variety of electric-colored one-piece outfits. The beginning music sounded like the overture to some great Broadway musical, which propelled the dancers to greater energy than in the previous pieces. This was followed by a slow section and different pairings and groupings. The last section was fast again, and at last the dancers seemed to be having fun, some even smiling, and leaving it all on the stage.

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