"American Legends" (Joffrey Ballet)

"American Legends" (Joffrey Ballet)

Reviewed by Chad T. Volkers

In the interests of disclosure I must admit that my only qualification for judging this ballet (apart from the fact that I attended it) is that when I was 19 I dated a girl who’s sister had some sort of shadow-y and much discussed-in-quiet-voices association with a Canadian ballet company of some repute. However, with full generosity of spirit and as much attention as I could muster I attended Joffrey Ballet’s production of American Legends at Auditorium Theatre.  The affair begins with Jerome Robbins’ work “Interplay,” ostensibly about “the wonderful playfulness and unfettered curiosity of youth.” While the staging of the work makes great use of the abundance of space (my notes from the night may include the phrase “there’s a whole damn world up there”) the movements themselves struck me as a little stale. There was plenty of energy being expended, but I spent much of ‘Interplay’ wishing that the dancers had been given more to do.

Next in the four work lineup is Gerald Arpino’s ‘Sea Shadow.” Arpino was one of the founders of Joffrey and is being honored here in light of what would have been his 90th birthday. Sea Shadow was immediately more striking, both the stage production as well as the dancing itself. Temur Suluashvili and Victoria Jaiani in particular are impressive (Temur earning the post-show title of “the male dancer with the ‘holy f*ck’ movement and functional strength” when I was trying to discuss Sea Shadow later) and do well to carry a sense of sustained energy and tension throughout the piece before the choreography falters with an awkward ending. Here we take a short break, with Stanton Welch’s “Son of Chamber Symphony” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” still to come.

Welch’s piece begins and is aggressively more modern and varied than the previous two, all of the dancers seeming more engaged and challenged than at any point prior. The work itself is supposed to in some way mirror the inner-workings of a clock, and it did result in some of the most interesting spatial arrangements of the night. I found the costuming a little distracting, with the men ensconced in minimalist Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes and the women trapped in Portobello mushroom caps, but this was easily my favorite piece of the night, with Sea Shadow a bit behind.

Now, I’ve tipped my hand by admitting that “Nine Sinatra Songs” was at best my 3rd favorite of 4, and if asked in the next few days I may even say it was my least favorite of the night. It certainly felt that way when I was sitting there. Now, to be fair, I can’t imagine I sit firmly within the audience that piece is being intended for, but it was over-long and carried with it about three different endings that would have felt blessedly like relief had they really been the endings. The dancers put in a capable effort but there’s something a little less than magical about shifting numb ass cheeks to a pre-recorded soundtrack of Sinatra songs meant to appease a fan base I evidently do not belong to.

Taking into account the general inoffensiveness of ‘Interplay’ and  the strengths of ‘Sea Shadow’ and ‘Son of Chamber Symphony,’ there’s enough here to chew on while you spend the Sinatra songs like he intended, ready for a drink. 3.1 GPA, with AP credit for Welch.

Thru February 24th

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