Joy Is the Operative Word for the Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach

Joffrey Ballet
San Francisco Classical Voice

By Janice Berman

The Joffrey Ballet brought its fine company, under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, back to Zellerbach Hall last weekend, burnishing its reputation for lively repertory and superb dancing. The brief visit (seen Friday night) under the aegis of Cal Performances offered a single program: Justin Peck’s In Creases, set to Philip Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos; Nicolas Blanc’s Encounter, a pas de deux set to John Adams; Alexander Ekman’s Joy, set to a lively medley; and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Mammatus, set to music by Michael Gordon.

The opener, Justin Peck’s 2012 In Creases, for an ensemble of eight, was the first piece Peck created for the New York City Ballet, where he has advanced to soloist as well as resident choreographer. Some of its cheery tropes, such as the semaphoric hand manipulations, while well-used, have a well-worn air, abandoned as Peck’s expertise and abilities have well, increased. One critic calls Peck classical ballet’s “third greatest” choreographer of this century. I don’t know how he knows that, since it’s early on, but clearly Peck is terrific. He has risen by dint of extreme gifts and an intuitive and performance-driven sense of what looks great on dancers and what dancers enjoy doing.

They enjoy the sweat, then the privilege and acknowledgement of ability, as well as the buildup of anticipation via a buoyant opening solo, danced Friday by Amanda Assucuena. They take pleasure in stretching their schooled legs in stunning arabesques, in the languorous unfurling of slender, elongated arms — but also in the staccato drive of accelerated lunges, like speed skaters racing around an Olympic oval. Do they like performing in long johns? I don’t know, but Peck, credited with the minimalist costumes, probably does.

Grace Kim and Matthew Long, seated upstage, were the masterly grand pianists, and the effective lighting, by Mark Stanley, was recreated by Alexander V. Nichols.

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