Choreography by: Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Nicolas Blanc and Myles Thatcher
At: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets: joffrey.org or ticketmaster.com; $34-159. Runs through: Feb. 18
Ballet is much more than The Nutcracker. As Joffrey's Modern Masters program shows, ballet can inspire, frustrate and ultimately revive. It's also the most ephemeral of art forms: dancers give endless time, money and energy to frustratingly short careers, risking injury for performances that can't be preserved. Showcasing the work of four very different and influential choreographers, Modern Masters answers the question, "is ballet worth it, for dancers and audiences?" with a resounding "yes."
The evening opens with George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. "Mr. B," as dancers called him, revolutionized ballet in the United States, choreographing in a unique way thateven decades lateris both gorgeous and distinctly odd. The Four Temperaments is classic Mr. B: very basic costuming, deceptively simple movements with drama in every flexed foot and raised arm, and an emphasis on story if not plot. Soloist Greig Matthews shines in the third variation, his expressive articulation carrying to the very back row of the Auditorium Theatre.
Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams is the evening's shortest and most powerful ballet. It's everything The Four Temperaments is not: fast-paced, frenetic and decidedly un-classical. Jacob ter Veldhuis' dynamic score mixes piano with snippets from infomercials, promising the ideal physical form in a way that is "so easy." Men dance with men and women dance with women as they appropriate physical fitness in tight, bright spandex in front of a mirrored set. Anyone who thinks ballet is dated must see Body of Your Dreams: in a brief snippet of time, Thatcher effectively sums up humanity's collective narcissism and desire for perfection.
Beyond the Shore is a world premiere from choreographer Nicolas Blanc, a celebration of exploring everywhere from the netherworld to the moon. While the ensemble movements burst with energy, the piece's two pas de deux are its most memorable. Set in Hawaii, "Aerosol Melody ( Hanalei )" brings to mind colorful flowers, and is beautifully executed by Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein. Immediately following, "Gemini in the Solar Wind" reimagines the first walk in space, using sound clips courtesy of NASA. Dancers Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels illustrated both weightlessness and deep uncertainty.
Finally, Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins mixes postmodern movement with 1980s urban sensibility. Though it's a large ensemble piece, with several solos and duets, Glass Pieces accurately conveys the isolation of city living. You're never fully alone, yet you're constantly reaching inside yourself for comfort. Glass Pieces feels like a true collaboration between Robbins and composer Philip Glass. Both choreography and music are bare-bones, and it's there the emotions shine through. On the whole, Modern Masters is a triumph for the Joffrey, a love letter to the constant innovation and utter timelessness of ballet.