For the final, repertory week of its spring engagement in the Auditorium Theatre, the company has produced a smashing rendition of Tudor's 1936 masterpiece, "Lilac Garden" (Jardin aux Lilas). Under the tutelage of Donald Mahler, a former Tudor student who staged this company premiere, the seminal "psychological ballet" was performed with every bit of the silken elegance and steely precision it demands.
The ballet's story, set to Ernest Chausson's "Poeme," is succinctly summed up in the names of its principal characters: Caroline, Her Lover, The Man She Must Marry and An Episode in His Past. Meeting, parting and reuniting in hurried, furtive rendezvous within the dark garden (scenery by Desmond Healy), they act out, through dance, the longing, frustration and despair of love unfulfilled.
Thursday night's cast of Maia Wilkins, Willy Shives, Davis Robertson and Suzanne Lopez, plus a superb corps of eight other dancers, was in control of the work in every aspect, with each detail of Tudor's strategically placed lifts and swoons perfectly executed.
The Joffrey also brought back into the repertory Artistic Director Gerald Arpino's bravura piece of 1965, "Viva Vivaldi," the flashy piece of virtuoso dancing in the classic Spanish mode that the company sensationally performed here in the 1960s at the old Harper Theatre, with Charthel Arthur, now a Joffrey ballet mistress, in the cast.
The revival had some unsteady, ragged individual moments in Thursday's performance, but the soloists and corps dancers women zipping about on point and men leaping and turning with cavalier bravado zestfully and joyously raced through Aprino's courtly moves, with Randy Herrera particularly bold and dashing.
The evening ended with a powerful reprise of "Les Presages," the Joffrey's magnificent restoration of Leonid Massine's 1933 symphonic ballet.
Set to Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, this is both a period piece and a timeless classic.
The women, robed in Greek gowns, and the men, bearing such ponderous titles as Fate and The Hero, engage in many stiff-legged steps and much wigwagging of arms. In a full-company cast that fills the Auditorium's large stage, phalanxes of dancers are forever meeting in symbolic encounters with Passion, Frivolity and Temptation.
But along with this fustian material comes Massine's genius, which matches the massed surge of the music with the heroic group dynamics of his dance.
The piece is at once an anachronism and a knockout.
Joffrey Ballet of Chicago performs at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Phone 312-902-1500.