The Joffrey Ballet’s joyful program of four dances at the Civic Theatre (Mar. 8) opened with Justin Peck’s In Creases, a vibrant dance set to Philip Glass’ Four Movements for Two Pianos.
Dressed in white and muted gray, four women and four men (with black socks) whirled and fluttered as pianists Jeeyoon Kim and Grace Kim performed the intricate score on stage. With two baby grand pianos as the backdrop, we slipped into a dimension where black socks became the black keys and airborne couples formed the musical patterns.
Peck’s structure is poetic and conjures geometric images, such as men carrying horizontal women like tree branches, or were they rolled up blankets? At times, the score sent dancers into straight lines, and their arms angled like airport workers directing planes. We marveled when an extraordinary tall man rotated his powerful arms like a windmill, yet lifted women to the rafters with gentle attention. Even in the large theatre, viewers were drawn into a dreamscape and felt vibrations rippling through the stage floor.
Peck is an important new choreographer, and his career has caused a buzz in the San Diego dance community. The soloist and the Resident Choreographer and Artistic Adviser of New York City Ballet grew up in San Diego, where he studied at California Ballet for two years. In addition to his choreographic work for NYCB, Peck has created ballets for a range of companies. He is the Tony Award–winning choreographer of the 2018 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel on Broadway
After a short pause the program, presented by La Jolla Music Society, continued with Encounter, the first of two works by choreographer and Joffrey ballet master Nicholas Blanc.
Dancers Victoria Jalani and Alberto Velazquez struggled over a dark rectangular box, a futuristic bed. Dressed in nude nothings, they ran on silent feet and moved liquid arms and loose joints as if floating. When they bent their hands backward from the wrist, they appeared non-human. Set to John Adam’s “Saxophone Concerto,” seductive head rolls and spins changed from a romance to an attack. The sound of a clarinet sounded like a crying animal.
Set to a soundscape by modern composer Mason Bates, Blanc’s Beyond the Shore was also otherworldly. The work performed by 14 dancers has six movements and costumes conjured the future and watery unknown environments.
There was a sense of drifting, that dancers were floating, riding ocean currents and weightless in outer space. The score included sound from the first American spacewalk in 1965. A memorable section included a duet with the tiny Victoria Jaiani and tall Fabrice Calmels, especially the soaring lifts, and his simple act of reaching for her hand was sublime. Bate’s music offered syncopation and dancers responded with soft shoe sequences, and the final section called “Warehouse” had beats that shook the building.
The finale was Alexander Ekman’s Joy, a playful and upbeat injection of joy commissioned by The Joffrey. The curtain went up and a stripped down stage was filled with the full company of dancers fooling around–wiggling, noodling, leaping, and walking on their hands. They wore beige suits unbuttoned and loose and did whatever made them feel joy.
We heard Ekman’s Swedish voice ask, “What are the movements of joy?” He spoke about the dancers and encouraged the audience to dance at work. The score ranged from blues to jazz to birds chirping, with music by Brad Mehldau Trio, Django Django, Tiga and Moby.
In program notes, Ekman says he created the work in two weeks after watching dancers feeling joy. Clearly they have a thing about shoes and freedom.
The women untied their hair and their pointe shoes, and they defiantly dropped the shoes to the floor again and again. They relished the freedom.
And then it was raining shoes. Nude colored pumps, of all sizes, fell from the sky. Beautiful women and men stripped down to skivvies and marched and danced in heels. One can imagine the Joffrey costumer trying to organize all of the shoes and different sizes. But it’s likely that because of Joy, more people are dancing at work and buying nude colored pumps.
Did you know? The Joffrey Ballet’s last visit to San Diego in 2013 included works by William Forsythe, Stanton Welch, and Christopher Weeldon.
Dance with La Jolla Music Society continues with Alvin Ailey. Tuesday and Wednesday, March 26 and 27. Jacobs Music Center-Copley Symphony Hall.https://ljms.org/