DANCE REVIEW : Uncompromising Work by Joffrey


Cultural reclamation at its most enlightened, the Joffrey Ballet’s Diaghilev program has always been important for both its renewal of early 20th Century masterworks and for making the company itself indispensable to contemporary dance.

Over the years, however, the program has evolved from naive celebrations of Leonide Massine to a survey of the roles danced by Vaslav Nijinsky and on to the current fascination with the choreography of both Nijinsky and his sister, Bronislava Nijinska.

Adding Nijinska’s “Les Noces” (1923) to Nijinsky’s “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune” (1912) and “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1913)--as the company did at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday--raises profound questions about the meaning of classicism, virtuosity and our own rather diminished expectations at most ballet performances.

Set to yet another of Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking scores, “Les Noces” looks at the social rituals and relationships of a Russian peasant wedding through a hyper-mechanized sensibility--as if the subject were a factory.


Braiding is a major theme, with the bride’s hair stretched across the entire stage--and with various groups weaving themselves into impenetrable architectural masses. There are also Nijinsky resemblances galore: intense group jumps-in-place, with the feet tucked up, straight from “Sacre,” as well as the concept of individuals cruelly isolated from the social order they perpetuate.

Clearly, Nijinska both validated and extended her brother’s controversial innovations, and “Les Noces” presents them at their most uncompromising. Spectacular group dancing is the attraction here, but Julie Janus (the Bride) and Daniel Baudendistel (the Groom) make effective Chosen Ones while Deborah Dawn and Joseph Schnell nearly dance themselves to death as their friends.

Irina Nijinska (the choreographer’s daughter) and Howard Sayette have staged the work with meticulous regard for its astonishing rhythmic force, and the original designs by Natalia Goncharova have been carefully reproduced under the supervision of John C. Gilkerson. Finally, a phalanx of pianists, vocal soloists and choristers (members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale) give Stravinsky equal care.

Indeed, under Allan Lewis, the score sounds far more powerful than the reduced orchestration of the mighty “Sacre” adopted for reasons of economy. However, the “Sacre” dancing is always a wonder, with Beatriz Rodriguez more than ever brilliant at defining layers of pain and terror in the final solo. In “Faune,” Tyler Walters offers an intelligent, boldly projected performance of the Nijinsky role without ever yielding to the impulse behind the movement. John Miner conducts.

Last week, company artistic director Gerald Arpino abruptly resigned and prohibited the company from dancing his ballets as of May 4. On Saturday, however, two familiar Arpino works graced the Joffrey program--and executive director Penelope Curry said “we’re performing the dances with his permission,” though she declined to comment further.

The woozy “Round of Angels” (to Mahler) found Valerie Madonia and Baudendistel newly cast as the central couple--each of them accomplished but not yet as free as their predecessors.

The rock platitudes of “Trinity” (music by Alan Ralph and Lee Holdridge) inspired a blazing performance from Edward Stierle, a classy one from Jodie Gates and an unexpectedly playful one from Edward Morgan.

Due to the knee injury of Tom Mossbrucker, the previously reviewed “La Vivandiere” Pas de Six replaced Arpino’s “L’Air d’Esprit,” and Douglas Martin danced the title role in Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” a day earlier than scheduled.

Danced at heroic scale, Martin’s moody interpretation of Billy had plenty of magnetism and a ruthless efficiency in killing--but not much of a sardonic edge. Walters made a convincing Garett, but Gates looked labored and all too corporeal as the dream-sweetheart. Miner conducted the much-loved Copland score capably.