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Joffrey Ballet Program at CAL Berkeley Proves Disappointing

by Joanna G. Harris
March 14, 2015
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Four works were presented by Chicago's Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach Auditorium on the UC campus this past weekend (March 14 & 15): "Incantations," by Val Caniparoli; "Son of Chamber Symphony," by Stanton Welch; "Bells," by Yuri Passokhov and "Episode 31," by Alexander Ekman. All these ballets were premiered elsewhere by the Joffrey within the last four years. The much loved company in the days of founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, now, under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, provides less great works as once it did, instead favoring a kind of bravura entertainment.

"Incantations," to a taped score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky employed gesture in a spiraling line that was echoed in Sandra Woodall's costumes. The line is repeated over and over again by a hand/arm gestures across and down the torso. Various duets and solos are also repeated, as are endless entrances and exits. There were distinguished performances by April Daly, Mathew Adamczyk, Temur Suluashvili and Ogulcan Borova, but the overall product was one of continual technical feats, solo acrobatics and exaggerated partner lifts. The impact should be a 'wow' of show stopping events, but the result was weak in projection, intention and ensemble. Woodall also designed the hanging scenic coils that were as stage décor. Lighting design was by Lucy Carter, recreated by Jack Mehler.

Similar weaknesses pervaded "Son of Chamber Symphony" set to music by John Adams. Welch's program notes informed us that his plan in this work was to deconstruct (as the music does) "standard ballet traditions and open them out to discover new interpretations and greater awareness." So, the opening, a woman in tutu, surrounded by four men, might recall the 'rose adagio' from "The Sleeping Beauty." Alas, costume and stage placement cannot achieve this, unless the references are also in the movement. The pas de duex was nicely executed by Jeraldine Mendoza and Miguel Angel Blanco, but, as with the rest of the ballet, it failed to evoke either the classic or modern innovations. The high riding tutus looked more and more bizarre; the visual emphasis became ballerinas' bottoms. This strange costume design was by Travis Haley with lighting again by Jack Mehler.

Two Geoargian (Russia) trained dancers were cast in Yuri Passokhov's "Bells," to the music by Rachmoninoff. The couple, who are married, evoked some of the "strength inside…romantic with a twist" the choreographer, according to the program notes, intended. As with the other pieces on the program however, it evoked some strength but little romance.

The final work, "Episode 31," by Ekman was a complete disaster. First, the accompanying film did not work. Next the company appeared in an assortment of bizarre costumes that harkened back to Berkeley in the '60's. Then the curtain went up and down several times with no particular reason. Worst of all, several children's poems - "Have you seen the wind?" and "I have a little shadow" - were recited badly over the sound system while an interpretative series of gestures were attempted. The whole effortset to assorted musical selections by Mikael Karlsson, Ane Brun and Eric Satie seemed better geared to an elementary school event (though not particularly amusing even then) than a serious Cal Performances presentation.
Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Blanco perform Stanton Welch's 'Son of Chamber Symphony.'

Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Blanco perform Stanton Welch's "Son of Chamber Symphony."

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Duggan

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