An Eclectic Troupe's Modern Trip

Joffrey Ballet
San Francisco Classical Voice

Depending on whose calendar you follow, the Joffrey Ballet is either 60 (in years since its founding) or 20 (the years it’s been based in Chicago). In either case, the company’s ultimate resilience as well as its growth in virtuosity is cause for celebration, and celebrate the happy audience at Zellerbach did.

Reflecting that history and the eclecticism that’s part of the company’s tradition, Artistic Director Ashley Wheater brought only new or recent works for this year’s visit to Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. Since there are so few companies with its breadth of superbly presented repertory, this was a mixed blessing. I suppose we can live – briefly – without The Green Table, but any time they want to bring it again, they’re welcome to.

For the nonce, the program consisted of three leotard-ish neoclassical ballets and one piece of postmodern, Eurofunk origin, created by Swedish-born Alexander Ekman, 31, the Nederlands Dans Theater’s assistant director, in 2011. His Episode 31 was supposed to be multimedia, with a film behind it embodying the message that folks can dance anywhere. However, the postmodern electronics failed and there was no movie. No matter.

It might have had something to do with the shifting score, by Mikael Karlsson, Ane Brun and, with an excerpt from Les Trois Gymnopedies, Erik Satie. Or with Luke Simcock’s variegated black and white costumes, some with skirts (for the guys, too), some with pants, shorts, garters, ties, white shirts, and heavy shoes (eventually discarded). Or it might have been the intensely anarchic aura that perfused Ekman’s choreography.

Anyway, it was the smartest, brightest piece of the evening. A full-out, full-company piece, it had speed and stomps, allusions to tap and classicism, gleeful shouts, and a lot of fist-pumping. It was, dare we say, youth incarnate. 
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