Joffrey’s ‘Sea Shadow’ goes for a synchronized swim

Special to The Times

Athletic boy meets shyly slinky girl undersea in Gerald Arpino’s wispy “Sea Shadow,” performed by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

Loosely based on the myth of Undine, a water sprite who acquires a soul only when she marries a human, the 1962 ballet is danced to the languid second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G for Piano and Orchestra. (Lucinda Carver was the soloist.)

We first see Davis Robertson snoozing on the bottom of the ocean among a scattering of rocks. Soon enough he’s up and at it, flinging himself into expert jack-knifed balances supported on one shoulder. He finds a seashell and dances awkwardly with it for a while. Nah, too boring.

But hey! Here’s willowy Maia Wilkins rising up from behind a kelp stalk, her long blond hair loose.


Pretty soon she and Robertson are sandwiched together on the floor, making swimming movements. An extended passage of floor work expands into airy lifts and culminates in corny aquatic harmony.

With such generic choreography -- the viewer can’t help but think of the striking movements Frederick Ashton gave his Ondine in the eponymous 1958 ballet -- it’s no wonder that Robertson came across as an affable cipher and Wilkins’ early air of mystery soon dissipated.

“Sea Shadow” substituted for “I/DNA” on the all-Arpino Saturday matinee program, which was otherwise identical to the Saturday night and Sunday performances.