Wayne McGregor's "Infra," now getting its U.S. premiere via the Joffrey Ballet, is a beautifully abstract work laced with carefully calculated doses of drama, brief images of pain and anguish, that transform it into deeply moving art.
The 2008 work from London-based McGregor, resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, came in the wake of the 2005 terrorist bombings in the city's Underground. That's its unmistakable narrative content, right out of the headlines.
But the collaboration McGregor forged with artist Julian Opie and composer Max Richter evokes those headlines without letting them take over, eyes keenly aimed at the universal. Opie's digital projections telecast video stick figures in constant pedway parade above and behind the playing area. The dancers below, in the subway, if you will, provide a contrast between bland routine and the horror of crisis, between clinical video and flesh and blood and between two disparate, competing visual worlds.
It makes for pretty straightforward, conceptual art interplay until the brilliant ending, when scads of extras flood the stage, mimicking the video and linking the two worlds, just as one lone dancer curls up and collapses while enacting a scream as silent and reverberating as that of painter Edvard Munch. Richter's melodic, minimalist score is a crucial contributor to the catharsis.
McGregor is a wizard at grafting original, offbeat images to traditional ballet, both grotesque and fetching realism seamlessly marrying classical forms. The Joffrey's superb rendition is more effective in delivering his creamy stylistics than his idiosyncrasy. Still, this is a dynamite addition to the repertory, recalling the adventurous, forward-thinking programming Robert Joffrey sought and often found.
A veteran critic recently termed ballet culturally irrelevant, but the trio of works on this program add up to an irrefutable rebuttal to whatever he meant. Nearly a quarter of a century older, William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" is a steely reinvigoration of classic technique, so widely influential it looks familiar. Victoria Jaiani, Rory Hohenstein, Christine Rocas and the slow-motion, mid-air turns of Graham Maverick are standouts.
And in their pas de deux in Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain," another major classic, Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels remain poets of the adagio, shining an absurdist flashlight onto dark, tormented corners of the soul.
When: Through Feb. 26
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Pkwy.