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.

It's a wide landscape, that's for sure. Forgotton Land is a starkly elegant work by Jiri Kylián, originally premiered in 1981 in Stuttgart. The music is Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia de Requiem, around which Kylián builds a striking picture. The work is actually in part inspired by a painting by the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch of women staring at the sea, and the Joffrey performance captures a sense of both the forboding grandeur of a northern shore and of the very human desire to find some richness in life, even in a challenging world. James Kudelka's Pretty BALLET is an entirely different study, bright and rich and beautifully danced.

The evening finishes with yet another completely different kind of experience, German choreographer Kurt Jooss' twentieth century masterpiece "The Green Table". It's subtitle, "A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes" may not seem promising, but it's an amazing work, a sharply profound look at the reality of war by an artist who, when he created the work in 1932, was only a few years past one such horror and only a few years away from another.

The music for the program is spectacular. These are the first performances by the Joffrey with the Chicago Philharmonic, and with Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck conducting, the orchestra brings a vibrant richness to the entire Joffrey experience. Just as impressive are pianists Mungunchimeg Buriad and Paul James Lewis, who perform the two piano score for The Green Table with insight and precision.

Human Landscapes is an unusually well designed program, clearly thought out with exceptional care.

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