Category In the News

Lauren Warnecke, Chicago Tribune

December 14, 2023

It was a banner year for dance in Chicago, with stellar productions from the city’s leading tap, jazz, contemporary and ballet companies. The year was chock full of standout performances for veterans on top of their game, plus several exciting, emerging dancers quickly rising through the ranks. More than a handful of the year’s highlights leaned hard into storytelling, with ballets and a few shorter works inspired by fairy tales and classic novels — others dazzled with technical and musical intricacy. Here are the top 10 dance shows from 2023.

Joffrey Features:

“The Little Mermaid” by the Joffrey Ballet in April: Choreographer John Neumeier’s impeccable stunner based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fable is about as far from Disney as it gets. The Joffrey Ballet finally got to perform it last spring after years of delay due to the pandemic. It was absolutely worth the wait, for reasons too long to list here — but here are three: Dylan Gutierrez as the ham-handed and hilarious prince; Victoria Jaiani, who spends half the ballet with an incomprehensibly long set of pants mimicking fins, and the other half deliberately awkward and unsteady on new legs; and Yoshihisa Arai as the Sea Witch, giving remarkable final performances as he retired from a storied Joffrey career.

Arpino Centennial Celebration at the Auditorium Theatre in September: On what would have been Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino’s 100th birthday, dancers from seven U.S. ballet companies came together at the Auditorium Theatre to perform favorite works from his prolific catalog. While some Aprino ballets have aged better than others, his impact on ballet and Chicago — bringing the Joffrey to roost here in 1995 — is undeniable. Never was that clearer than in a two-day celebration and exposition of his best stuff, with “Birthday Variations,” “Suite Saint-Saens” and “L’Air d’Esprit” at the top of the list.

“Frankenstein” by the Joffrey Ballet in October: With career-making breakout performances by José Pablo Castro Cuevas and Jonathan Dole, “Frankenstein” served as the cherry on top of a bang-up year for story ballets. As the titular chemist and his complex creation, respectively, Cuevas and Dole exquisitely captured the nuance of Mary Shelley’s characters — expertly manifested as dance by late choreographer Liam Scarlett, whose shorter piece, “Hummingbird,” will appear at Joffrey next February. With Scarlett’s 2021 death as a macabre backdrop, it would have been easy — understandable, even — for Joffrey to let this ballet become overwrought. Far from that, it is divinely gorgeous and one of the year’s most notable highlights.

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