By Sue Langenberg

The Friday evening performance of the Joffrey Ballet was a brilliant display of energy, history and all that makes a mixed program an inspiration on so many dance levels.
Program opener “Interplay” by iconic choreographer Jerome Robbins was pleasantly frisky with a playful mix of ballet and jazz. To music of Morton Gould, eight dancers frolicked through four divertissements “Free-Play,” “Horse-Play,’ “By-Play” and “Team-Play.” As the piece developed, so did the intensity until after the pas de deux by Mahallia Ward and Graham Maverick, it became a marathon of technical prowess with masterful and clean double tours by the men and zappy fouette turns by the women.
By our standards in the Third Age of dance, “Interplay” might seem rather dated. With its 1945 premier, however, it must have come across as a barnstormer of ballet much like George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” that pushed a musical envelope and sparked equal debate in the ‘20s. Both works teased the rather comfortable mid-century audiences out of familiar patterns of the classics into a frenzy of nouveau appreciation. For Robbins, the choreography was a mere precursor of what would yet come in his career when West Side Story became a signature creation in 1957. Sometimes composition of Leonard Bernstein’s opening of “Dance At The Gym” is hardly less stirring than the opening measures of ‘Rhapsody.’ In any event, “Interplay” holds up as a marvelous fit for today’s Joffrey dancers.
Premier work of the evening was “Son of Chamber Symphony” a work choreographed by internationally acclaimed Stanton Welch to the music by John Adams. The contemporary machinations of this work tested an ensemble of dancers into temporary arcs of familiarity, then into an undoing of mechanical visions, much like the music led the way, sometimes evenly measured, sometimes contrapuntal. Even the tutus, designed by Travis Halsey, were stark visions of perhaps Saturn’s rings, or exact circular cogs within a clock. The patterns and movements were engaging in search of one’s own impressions. Notable pas de deux was performed by April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez in the Second Movement. Daly was hardly recognizable as her regular regal presence, a sign that she is maturing into a most versatile dancer with the strong partnership with Gutierrez.
In honor of what would have been choreographer Gerald Arpino’s 90th birthday, the program included an anesthetic pas de deux featuring Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili as they oozed their way through “Sea Shadow.” With the melodic music of Maurice Ravel, Arpino created this timeless piece in 1962 inspired by fable “Ondine.” His visionary pearl brings a man on a beach and a sea nymph into an unworldly passion, maybe real, maybe not. But for the breath-holding essence of each fluid penche, each yearning pors de bras by wispy Jaiani, one gets lost between worlds. The strings of Ravel stir further deep passions, eloquently (and strongly) portrayed by Suluashvili. This piece will live on.
“Nine Sinatra Songs,” choreographed by Twyla Tharp, takes this ‘50s retro work into many moods of romance. American innovator Tharp has always been no stranger to pushing the dance envelope as well as establishing a keen reputation of contrapuntal sections. She is extraordinarily capable of humor when it comes to social foibles. Her ensemble work, however, becomes fractured by a distracting busyness, maybe too intellectual for any audience to appreciate. The work took the females from pointe shoes to high heels, no easy task, into athletic ups and downs to Sinatra’s soothing love. Highlight of the piece was a spitfire Yumelia Garcia who traded her fairy-like tiara and tutu into masterful versatility. The house loved her as she is a perfect fit for Joffrey.
The entire company is so accomplished in its presentation that it was a pleasure to lay bare the real intent of choreographer, eras and direction.