Chicago Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss
It has become one of the most thrilling rites of the Indian summer season: The Joffrey Ballet’s annual (and all-too-brief) non-subscription engagement at the Auditorium Theatre – a long weekend during which it presents a program of new or rarely revived works that suggest all that is absolutely “now” in the world of ballet, and all that is most striking about this stellar company.
“Millennials,” a must-see collection of two world premieres and a company debut, will run through Sunday only. It is not to be missed. Beyond all else, it is a program emblematic of Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater’s fervent wish to have the very finest contemporary choreographers use his dancers as their clay – to mold pieces on them that not only stretch and showcase their talents to the furthest limits, but enable them to put their virtuosic, highly individualistic imprint on these new creations from “the moment of birth.”
Opening the program like a thunderbolt is the world premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus” (which takes its name from a cloud formation). A work of pure wow, and true genius, it should become a signature piece of the Joffrey in seasons to come.
Ochoa first came to the attention of Chicago audiences last season when the Scottish Ballet visited with her production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Her “Mammatus” is less overtly narrative but no less heatedly theatrical. In a highly original way it plays on the iconography of birds in ballet history (“The Firebird,” “Swan Lake”), but it does so in a way that pays fascinating homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – with only a flock of wild and ferocious black crows in the picture here. Only in a short, dreamy finale does she introduce a pair of white swans floating aloft in a cloud. Stunning.
Joffrey Ballet dancers Derrick Agnoletti and Anastacia Holden in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Mammatus,” part of the “Millennials” program. (Photo: Cheryl Mann)
The dancing in “Mammatus” is of breakneck difficulty and altogether phenomenal, whether Ochoa is using the full ensemble of 18 feral, breathtakingly strong black birds, or suggesting quite savage relationships in a trio (Cara Marie Gary, Graham Maverick and Lucas Segovia), and a series of duets whose spiraling acrobatic feats of partnering play with centrifugal force. Paired in those duets were the ever superb Fabrice Calmels and powerhouse Anais Bueno (one of several new dancers in the company); Anastacia Holden and Derrick Agnoletti (two veterans, both at their formidable peak); fierce, leggy Anna Gerberich (another newcomer) with the dashing Segovia, and finally, in white, the impossibly lyrical Calmels and Christine Rocas.
Set to Michael Gordon’s haunting “Weather One,” for strings, “Mammatus” features brilliant design work by Dieuweke Van Reu, whose set (ideally lit by Alexander V. Nichols) is pierced by long, angled LED bulbs that suggest lightning, and whose costumes leave the dancers’ muscled thighs bare, but lend their black-clad arms a claw-like effect. The work had the audience on its feet.