One was Russian and Georgian, another British and the third sprung as much from the Borscht Belt as ballet.
But George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Jerome Robbins all found a home at the New York City Ballet, where their discipline and intelligence still illuminate and their work sets a high bar for the art.
In inspired programming, Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater has put together four works by this trio: Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" and "Tarantella," Wheeldon's "After the Rain" and Robbins' "The Concert (or, the Perils of Everybody)." It's a risk and makes demands on artists and audience alike. But balletgoing rarely gets more rewarding, and the dancers reach for — and often grasp — new levels of achievement.
Unexpectedly, it was upstart Wheeldon (only 37) whose work proved most electrifying Wednesday, thanks in no small part to Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels' spellbinding rendition of its pas de deux. This is hardened, fleshy, intense and breathtaking duet dancing, a couple who've maybe fallen out or even lost a child — disturbing and poetic. Jaiani looks like a completely different woman than the one seen earlier in Balanchine's "Stravinsky," here reedlike, fragile and anguished, her hair loose and wild, sometimes clouding her face. To the hypnotic, mournful Arvo Part score, beautifully played live by Chicago Sinfonietta and conductor Scott Speck (among the program's stars), Jaiani and Calmels are sexy, impassioned and paradoxically enchanting, their intricate moves and odd shapes coalescing into unforgettable drama. (Casting will vary through the engagement.)
"The Concert" is in every way a diametric opposite, a very funny, though lilting comedy that Robbins created when working on "West Side Story," set to Chopin and a surreal, send-up of serious concertgoing. The "audience" (actually the dancers in witty attire) gather on stage to listen to Paul James Lewis at the piano, only to transmogrify into creatures of a madcap fantasy world peopled by subconscious escapees and dotted with one haunting umbrella-fueled elegy — as if the Marx Brothers and Evelyn Waugh teamed up for choreography. Some of the best moments come from John Mark Giragosian (as a nerd) and pianist Lewis himself.
Both Balanchine works were nicely presented, altogether differing looks at his enduring genius and musical mastery, performed with confidence and verve.
When: Through Oct. 24
Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Tickets: $25-$145 at 800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
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