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Joanna G. Harris
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Zellerbach Hall
United States
San Francisco Bay Area
Berkeley, CA

Joffrey Ballet Program offered up Contemporary Diversions at UC Berkeley

by Joanna G. Harris
November 19, 2017
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Joffrey Ballet Chicago has had a lively week in residence in Berkeley, presenting community events and classes, showcasing forthcoming choreography. Best of all however were the variety of works they presented on several evening programs at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. It was not the classical ballet we have seen and come to expect from the company.

Of the four works on the program “Joy,” by choreographer Alexander Ekman was the most unusual. The dancers (almost 27 of them) filled the stage doing their favorite activities. A voice-over asked “Are they joyful? Are they bringing you, the audience, joy?” After a pleasant interlude watching dancers, jump, exercise on the floor, stand on their heads and hands, the stage was cleared. All the ballerinas then entered and after an active episode, they held up their pointe shoes and did a "shoe drop." The men followed and the entire company donned high heels and walked, strutted, and showed off. Alas, no soft shoe, no tap dancing, just dance fun. A classical duet performed by Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez concluded “Joy,” to remind us that the dance form can also be joyous.

Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez then performed “Encounter” choreographed by Nicolas Blanc who was a well-known San Francisco Ballet principal.

To music by Berkeley composer John Adams, “Encounter” was a lamentation for the male dancer who is dominated by the female. In their lifts and locomotion both appeared equal but the woman ultimately leaves the man. It is a sweet work, choreographically employing more lyric arm and torso gestures than is usually seen in pas de deuxs.

“In Creases” by choreographer Justin Peck came next set to a piano score by Philip Glass. Peck has received much notice in the last few years as an important emerging choreographer whose ballets have been seen on many companies including San Francisco Ballet.

“In Creases” danced all in white (though the men wear black socks) had many interesting geometric shapes and patterns but for the most part they dissolved into mundane designs and did not develop. The company was very skilled in all technical matters and carried the ballet off well.

The program concluded with “Mammatus.” The title, according to female choreographer(Yea!) Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is in reference to a cloud formation. She says she intended, “To create an organic chaos…animal nature…the energy in nature.” Accordingly, a huge light design like a lighting bolt lit the upper stage right and inevitably descended.

The dancers, in black leotards, knee high socks and long black gloves, presented an endless series of complex moves, jagged, quick, changing direction often and generally capturing a feeling of restless energy. There was a trio, three duets and finally a "white duet," that evening was performed by Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez. The frenetic score was by Michael Gordon. For this reviewer, although the dancers (at least 27 of them) all performed brilliantly, the constant beat and drive of both the sound and movement became tiresome.

The program featured forty-two dancers in the company. They all deserved applause and bravos for their strength, skill, performance ingenuity and general accomplishment. Joffrey Ballet makes us look at ballet with new eyes.
Graham Maverick in Alexander Ekman's 'Joy.'

Graham Maverick in Alexander Ekman's "Joy."

Photo © & courtesy of Cheryl Mann

Brooke Linford in Alexander Ekman's 'Joy.'

Brooke Linford in Alexander Ekman's "Joy."

Photo © & courtesy of Cheryl Mann

Victoria Jaiani & Dylan Gutierrez in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 'Mammatus.'

Victoria Jaiani & Dylan Gutierrez in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Mammatus."

Photo © & courtesy of Cheryl Mann

Joffrey Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 'Mammatus.'

Joffrey Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Mammatus."

Photo © & courtesy of Cheryl Mann

Anais Bueno and Joffrey Ballet dancers in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 'Mammatus.'

Anais Bueno and Joffrey Ballet dancers in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Mammatus."

Photo © & courtesy of Cheryl Mann

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