Finally, the Original RITE (sort of): The Joffrey Ballet performs two intense programs at Carolina

The Small Maidens in Red from The Joffrey Ballet's The Rite of Spring. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Small Maidens in Red from The Joffrey Ballet’s The Rite of Spring. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Chicago’s sleek company, The Joffrey Ballet, made a two-night appearance in Chapel Hill March 23 and 24, as Carolina Performing Arts‘ super-season culminates with a string of powerful performers. The big draw was the reconstruction of Nijinsky’s 1913 choreography and Nicholas Roerich’s sets and costumes for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, but the Joffrey also performed two other pieces each night. It was very satisfying to finally get to see this famous dance, even if perhaps 20% of the Hodson/Archer reconstruction is their work, and not the original artists’. The experience was made even richer by CPA’s free “Program Notes Live” talks by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer preceding each night’s concert. These scholars–the dance detectives–have spent years searching out and poring over every clue about the lost ballet, and even a thimbleful of their knowledge and insight into the work provoked a much greater understanding of its complexity and layers of symbol and meaning. This is exactly why I must live around universities–they give this great stuff away to any one who wants to soak it up!

I reviewed the first night for Read  “The Shock of the Beautiful, The Thrill of the Old: The Joffrey Ballet at Carolina” here, but first look at these pictures. The first night’s two non-RITE pieces were fantastic. I love John Adams’ music, and Stanton Welch’s choreography, so Son of Chamber Symphony was right up my street, with its completely contemporary attitude. The dancing was glorious, but whatever they had danced, if they had been wearing these costumes by Travis Halsey, I would have been captivated. The men wore forest-green unitards, scooped below the nipples in front and “laced” in back like corsets.

Christine Rocas & Joanna Wozniak of the Joffrey in Son of Chamber Symphony. Photo by Christ.

Christine Rocas & Joanna Wozniak of the Joffrey in Son of Chamber Symphony. Photo by Christ.

The second dance, After the Rain, by Christopher Wheeldon, was just one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately. The music was Arvo Part, but I could hear Rickie Lee Jones singing in my head, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Here’s a glimpse.

One of a cascade of beautiful moments in The Joffrey's After the Rain. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

One of a cascade of beautiful moments in The Joffrey’s After the Rain. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The second night, the company danced Edwaard Liang’s The Age of Innocence. I have a hard time with this piece, because it purports to be inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. I am an Austen fanatic, and I just can’t see it. Seems a lot more Gilded Age/Edith Wharton to me.  I saw The Joffrey perform in the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America series three years ago (see review here). It was much more splendid in Memorial Hall, with grand red drapes for the backdrop, and wonderful lighting. As you can see below, there are some very heated moments in the duets, which contrast deliciously with a stylized 19th century formality in the group dance–a formality that suits the Philip Glass music. Christine Rocas and Ogulcan Borova were devastating in the “Obey Thee” section, and the “First Dialogue,” with Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva were also very fine.

More Wharton than Austen: The Joffrey dancers in The Age of Innocence. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

More Wharton than Austen: The Joffrey dancers in The Age of Innocence. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Oddly, the William Forsythe work, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, one of his better known pieces, was a bit lackluster. It was all very well done…but it just didn’t have the jolt it needed. Maybe the dancers were saving themselves a little for The Rite, still to come.

The Joffrey Ballet dancing In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Joffrey Ballet dancing In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Seeing The Rite again so soon was revelatory. It is so dense that it just cannot be taken in all at once. Having just heard an hour’s slide-talk on the symbolism in the visual design, I could see much better how important it was to creating the sense of ritual, even though, from the audience, one cannot really make out all the detail. A lot of people scoffed at the idea of an entire performance season revolving around The Rite, but so far I’ve learned a lot–enough to know that I barely know anything. And I’m not tired of the music yet.

Still to come: Nederlands Dans, and Basil Twist’s puppet version.

The Joffrey Ballet, from the reconstructed ballet, The Rite of Spring. Note the way that even the underarm gussets contribute to the symbolic decorative scheme.  Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

The Joffrey Ballet, from the reconstructed ballet, The Rite of Spring. Note the way that even the underarm gussets contribute to the symbolic decorative scheme. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.



Bringing it back: Nijinsky’s RITE tonight

A Joffrey Ballet dancer in THE RITE OF SPRING, as reconstructed by Hodson and Archer. Photo courtesy CPA.

A Joffrey Ballet dancer in Vaslav Nijinsky’s THE RITE OF SPRING, as reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer. Photo courtesy CPA.

Tonight and tomorrow the fabulous Joffrey Ballet will perform in UNC’s Memorial Hall, in one of the most eagerly-awaited programs of Carolina Performing Arts’ year-long investigation of Igor Stravinsky’s THE RITE OF SPRING, its offshoots and permutations. The Joffrey will dance Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer’s reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s ballet that made folks go crazy when the music and dance premiered simultaneously in Paris 100 years ago.

Hodson spoke at UNC’s excellent academic conference on THE RITE last fall, and she was super. She had the crowd on its feet, attempting to follow her through the complex rhythms of the music, and in the process, made its powerful construction both clearer and more astounding. Now she’s back, with reconstruction partner Archer, and they will present the “Program Notes Live” before the performances on the 23 and 24. The FREE talks take place in the Historic Playmakers Theatre an hour before performance time in Memorial Hall, and would be well worth attending, even if you are not seeing the dance. See the CPA site for more info.

Serious Klöwn

Photo: Reporter Poland, on, May 25, 2012.

Playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Photo: Reporter Poland, on, May 25, 2012.

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern surprises once again. After opening their season  by standing Shakespeare’s examination of power politics in Richard II on its head, LGP’s Power Season continues with two short little-known Eastern European absurdist works by Polish-born (1930) playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Derklöwnschpankeneffeckt:  two plays for klöwn continues at Manbites Dog Theater (Other Voices series) through April 6.

Mrozek defected from Communist Poland in 1963 and became a French citizen in 1978, but his earlier life-experience during the era of Stalin enabled him to deftly skewer totalitarian politics and practices while looking at the reasons people fail to defy them. Self-preservation is at the top of that list, and  these works are dated by the complete inability of the characters in both plays to ally themselves against the forces of fate or government arrayed against them. In 1961 when Out at Sea and Striptease were written, Solidarność, the Polish Solidarity movement that eventually dismantled the Soviet bureaucracy in Poland, wasn’t even a gleam in an intellectual’s eye.

Photo: Alex Maness

O’Berski, Martin and Detwiler in Out at Sea. Photo: Alex Maness

Out at Sea presents a classic moral conundrum. Three men, supposedly lost at sea, are starving to death. Someone must be eaten. But who? Will it be the struggling Thin (Jay O’Berski)? Will it be bossman Fat (Carl Martin)? Or maybe his sycophant,  Medium (Jeffrey Detwiler)? Or will something occur to save them? The three men, very crafty actors all, rock and stumble in their tossing boat to a set of interwoven rhythms laid down by director Michael O’Foghludha. A sometime drummer, O’Foghludha spends his days deeply concerned with fairness and justice and the power of the state, as an elected Superior Court judge. His acute insight into the material, his propensity for rhythmic structuring, and the superb physical skills of the actors combine to make theater that is as much dance as play. O’Berski and Detwiler have an energy flow between them that makes me think of lit dynamite being tossed back and forth; with Martin in the mix, the sense of danger only increases. These three move so seamlessly together to convey all the nuances of power negotiations that the words, as funny as they are, become secondary. Nicola Bullock choreographed.

Photo: Alex Maness

O’Berski and Detwiler teasing before the strip. Photo: Alex Maness

But to see just Detwiler and O’Berski together in Striptease is fabulous. These two go way back together, and have together made some of the most memorable stage images in the Triangle since 1993. In Chelsea Kurtzman’s excellent costumes and Chad Evans’ clever set, they make another here. Striptease is a more focused play, and they tear into it with all the force their mutual trust and anarchic tendencies make possible. Their comic timing is, by this time, natural to them, and director O’Foghludha takes full advantage it as he explores Mrozek’s exploration of the meaning of freedom–a quest never out of date.

The sheer amount of brain power at work in this production is awesome–the director and actors are very well served by the sharp work by all the designers. Sound  designer Quaran Karriem and lighting designer R.S. Buck made the atmosphere. Alex Maness contributed photography and video; he, Kurtzman, Stephanie Waaser and the ubiquitous Jenn Evans created the large special effects in the second play. 

If you care at all about the relationship between individual and government, or perhaps you feel the hand of government reaches too far and takes too much, you’ll want to see these plays. If you just want to laugh, it is OK to go for that alone.

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