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Past is present in Joffrey Ballet Program

by Joanna G. Harris
January 26, 2013
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
It was exciting to watch the return of the Joffrey Ballet to Cal Performance's Zellerbach Hall Auditorium last weekend. It has been many years since the company performed here. Now, under the artistic direction of former Joffrey dancer Ashley Wheater, the company brought three works to Berkeley: Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence, Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain" and the much anticipated revival of Kurt Jooss' 1932 masterpiece "The Green Table".

A powerful antiwar statement, "The Green Table" (A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes), is as satisfying and meaningful now as it has been over its prior decades of being performed. The opening and closing mimed scenes of diplomats at the green peace negociation table, followed by the six scenes during which war and death prevail, define the pathos of man's best efforts to avoid the chaos of war. The style of the piece includes suggestions of the early modern dance that prevailed in Europe during the 1930's. The piece scored for two pianos by F.A. Cohen was powerfully played by Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis.

In the January 26 performance, the character of "Death" was danced by Dylan Gutierrez whose stage presence dominated the work throughout. Another outstanding performance was by April Daly as the "Old Mother" who was taken by Death. Daly also danced the role of one of the diplomats.

Liang's "Age of Innocence" referenced American author Edith Wharton's novel of the same name. A program note said: "The Ballet, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, tells the story of females of the late 18th and early 19th centuries" but I feel the work confuses its style and title reference.

In it, we were met with a series of formal dance patterns reflecting the long dance sets described in Austen's books, but these patterns were disrupted by various contemporary lifts and acrobatic activities which hardly told a story, much less reflected women's attitudes in Austen's time.

The costumes were also bizarre. The men wore brief pants. The women began in long dresses, which soon are changed to tiny chemises. What was danced was skillful but hardly satisfying. The music of Philip Glass and Thomas Newman seemed to further add to the confusion.

Wheeldon's "After the Rain" consisted of three pas de deuxs, the last set to Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" (mirror to mirror)brilliantly and poignantly performed by April Daly and Rory Hohenstein. The couple establishment a dramatic relationship to the lyric sounds of Pärt's score. The two preceding duets only distracted from what was otherwise a beautifully wrought work.

The Joffrey Ballet is to be congratulated in bringing both old and new works to its enthusiastic audiences. If only the new works could provide the range of style and depth of the old.
Kurt Jooss' 'The Green Table'. Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

Kurt Jooss' "The Green Table". Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

Kurt Jooss' 'The Green Table'. Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

Kurt Jooss' "The Green Table". Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

Kurt Jooss' 'The Green Table'. Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

Kurt Jooss' "The Green Table". Photo courtesy of Joffrey Ballet.

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