The Possibilities of the Art: Ashley Wheater and Jazz at the Joffrey

The Joffrey Ballet's Lucas Segovia, Ricardo Santos, John Mark Giragosian and Alb

The more dramatic the movement, the harder it is to stay balanced; the higher the leap, the more difficult it is to land it gracefully. Those may sound like universal principles of motion, but you'd never know it from watching Ashley Wheater move. Even though Wheater hasn't actually danced on stage since his last performances in 1997, what he's doing now is probably a more demanding challenge in the motive arts. He's the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, and one of his most important (and most delicate) responsibilities is the construction of their concerts; Ashley Wheater designs the art and architecture of the Joffrey's uniquely expansive presentation of Dance.

Rich and Real: "Human Landscapes" at the Joffrey

Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Angel Blanco (Photo by Herbert Migdoll)

The Joffrey Ballet performs Human Landscapes at the Auditorium Theater through October 28, and it's a journey through three very different, and very compelling works --- different, compelling, and a little surprising. It's never surprising when the Joffrey is really accomplished in what they do, and it's never surprising when they seem inspired and convincing. What is surprising about Human Landscapes is that the Joffrey weaves a really strong sense of conviction into this show, to go along with their trademark professionalism and inspiration.

"Age of Innocence" at the Joffrey's Spring Desire

The Joffrey Ballet's Spring Desire is a richly successful evening; it features three works, "Age of Innocence" by Edwaard Liang, "In the Night" by Jerome Robbins, and the world premiere of "Incantations" by Val Caniparoli. Spring Desire continues this week, from Thursday through Sunday, and ticket information is available at the Joffrey website.

Johnny Nevin wrote about the Joffrey performance here at, and has also taken a much more in-depth look at the making of Edwaard Liang's richly enchanting "Age of Innocence" at Here's a video collage of photographs by Herbert Migdoll of scenes from "Age of Innocence".

The Joffrey Ballet Lights It All Up With "Spring Desire"

Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk in "incantations".  Photo by Herbert Migdoll
Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk in "incantations".  Photo by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet's "Spring Desire" is a beautiful, masterful evening, made out of elegance and precisely focused inspiration; it opened April 25 at Chicago's legendary Auditorium Theatre, and will run through the beginning of May.

"Spring Desire" starts out with Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence", an intricately conceived and beautifully performed work of profound insight. I wrote about the making of the piece in an article at called "The Choreography of Understanding", and in the process I had the chance to see one of the rehearsals for it. In a way it's a revelation to see the movement isolated in the bright light of the Joffrey's expansive rehearsal studio, repeated again and again until it shows the multiple perspectives of individual performance, ensemble precision and choreographic architecture, but it's nothing like seeing the lights come up on it at the Auditorium. There's a depth to the staging, a harmony to its richly woven movement-fabric, a brightness in the dancers who perform in it, that immerses you in it's rich, brooding story.

The second work in "Spring Desire" is a widely respected work by Jerome Robbins entitled "In the Night", set to four Chopin Nocturnes. The Nocturnes are performed live, and beautifully, by Paul James Lewis, as six dancers weave a hopelessly enchanting spell with Robbins' movement design. The program notes say that the "exquisitely romantic pas de deux explore love in all its phases", and although "exquisitly romantic" is exactly what they are, the graceful eloquence of the Jofferey dancers adds a whole new kind of love to the list.

The last work in the show is the world premiere of "Incantations" by Val Caniparoli that I won't even try to describe; you just have to go see it. It starts out with a nonstop energy that could be the finale of almost anything else, then one of the most effective lighting changes you'll ever see brings everything way down, and it finishes, it finishes, maybe I shouldn't say how it finishes. You should just go see it.

Watching the Joffrey work is beyond impressive; the performance is at a level that's stunning in its gracefulness, its energy and its commitment. In three very different works, "Spring Desire" showcases what can happen when a group of richly talented people work really hard together to make something brilliant. This is a band where everybody knows how to play; this is a show to go see.

Spring Desire is at the Auditorium Theater through May 6, tickets are at the Joffrey (10 E. Randolph Street) and Roosevelt Box Offices or from Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787.

The Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Hedy Weiss in Dance Magazine

Dance Magazine cover featuring Victoria Jaiani.  Photo by Herbert Migdoll

The cover of the October issue of Dance Magazine features Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet, who is the featured artist in an informative cover story written by Hedy Weis. Ballet is a world of its own, and Weiss manages to combine a cohesive biographical story about Jaiani (quite a story at that) with some very three-dimensional insight into life at the Joffrey. It's one of those articles that serves as an informative introductory guide to a subject you're aware of but don't know well, which is a fair description of the ballet and

Weiss finds a lot of those remarkable details that take you into a world that somebody else lives every day. One of my favorites is when the Joffrey's Artistic Director Ashley Wheater (whose several appearances in the article paint a fascinating picture of the role of an Artistic Director) is describing some of what makes Jaiani so good. "... Her jump seemed to spring from nothing, like a deer". That's an intriguing observation, and clearly an important idea in ballet, where verticality often seems so primary, but from there Wheater moves on to a concept that was new to me. He continues with an idea that implies a very different way of seeing ballet performance: "She has such a fluid upper body --- something I think we've lost globally in ballet --- so she really stands out." Quite an insight into what an Artistic Director has to perceive, and into how movement in ballet defines its own evolving ideals. It's a very enjoyable read, despite everything you end up learning. Worth finding at the news stand, or take a look at the article at

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