It's said that the majority of ballet fans love full-length story ballets, while ballet dancers themselves prefer eclectic repertory programs.
"I can understand why dancers say that because the thing in repertory programs is that there's more opportunity to actually get something to dance," said Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheater in anticipation of the company's upcoming Eclectica concert. On the bill are two world premieres: Jessica Lang's Crossed and James Kudelka's Pretty BALLET. Rounding out the program is a revival of the late Gerald Arpino's neoclassical piece Reflections.
Unlike most ballet companies that have a hierarchical casting system of principals and soloists who get all the plum parts in narrative ballets, the Joffrey lists its company of dancers on an equal footing.
"For me, the choreographer walks into the door and he or she can choose whomever they wantand I've always believed that even when I was a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet," Wheater said. San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director/Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson "always believed that choreographers should work with the people that they see in the studio that inspire them. I see that the results have been wonderful so I love to give people the same opportunity."
Also getting a major opportunity is rising choreographer Jessica Lang, whose work for regional ballet companies like Richmond Ballet impressed Wheater so much that he commissioned a new work from her for the Joffrey.
"I said to Jessica, 'I really love your work. This company is so open and willing to explore with you,'" Wheater said. "Go for all your ideas and all the things you want to try because it's better to really step out and see what happens as opposed to playing it safe."
Wheater is excited with Lang's results so far with Crossed, which is a reflection on religious music by Mozart, Handel and des Prez. Wheater is also happy with Kudelka's new piece Pretty BALLET, which features music drawn from Symphony No. 2 by Czech composer Martin.
"The beauty of his choreography speaks very loudly to me," Wheater said, noting Kudelka's strong knowledge of classical ballet and modern movement which are to be used in his ballet to explore industrial and romantic approaches to art.
Wheater was immensely pleased with the wildly successful audience response to two narrative ballets the Joffrey staged earlier this season: the Chicago premiere of Lar Lubovich's Othello and a revival of Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella. Wheaton hopes that some of that audience enthusiasm for story ballets will stick with Eclectica,
"With repertory, you do have a great opportunity to see many different things in an evening," Wheater said. "And it does enable us to show the full depth of the company."
The Joffrey Ballet's Eclectica plays April 28-May 9 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays ( and April 28 ) , and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $25-$145. Call 800-982-2787 or visit joffrey.org .
American Ballet Theatre returns
The notion that story ballets outsell repertory evenings can be seen in American Ballet Theatre's 2010 stop in Chicago. The classic Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake floods Chicago's Civic Opera House stage for seven performances, while ABT's All-American program only gets one evening.
But what an evening of modern classics ABT is presenting for its program of "All-American" choreographers!
Musical theater fans won't want to miss the revival of Jerome Robbins' 1944 ballet Fancy Free set to a jazzy score by Leonard Bernstein. This ballet about three wartime sailors looking for love in New York City was the direct inspiration for Robbins and Bernstein's collaboration on the Broadway musical classic On the Town.
Things stay in a World War II-mood with Paul Taylor's 1991 work Company B, which is set entirely to songs sung by The Andrews Sisters. Though there is no conventional plot in Company B, Taylor touches upon all sorts of wartime-era moods and feelings ranging from pin-up girls and the Good Neighbor Policy with South American countries to the Cold War dread that was ushered in with the world's first atomic bomb.
Rounding out the program is Twyla Tharp's 2000 piece The Brahms-Haydn Variations, a large-scale neoclassical work for 30 dancers that also has some modern touches.
American Ballet Theatre performs its All-American program and Swan Lake at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. All-American plays 7:30 p.m. Wed., April 14, while Swan Lake is performed 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 18. Tickets are $25-$125. Call 800-982-2787 or visit www.abt.org .
If classical Western dance isn't your thing, try looking east when the Chinese classical music and dance spectacular Shen Yun returns to the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker. Performances are 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 11. Tickets are $39-$150; call 800-982-2787 or visit www.chicago-shows.com .
Dance in the suburbs
Schaumburg Dance Ensemble presents a new choreographed take on the famed Arabian tale of Aladdin with lots of ballet and contemporary dance ( plus a narrator to help little ones follow along ) . Aladdin plays noon and 4 p.m. Saturday, April 10, and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 11 at the Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg, Schaumburg. Tickets are $12-$22. Call 847-895-3600 or visit www.prairiecenter.org .
Salt Creek Ballet also draws from Swan Lake this month to celebrate its 25th-anniversary season. But instead of the whole Lake, it's just a swig by presenting Act II alone of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Act II of Swan Lake plays 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 11, at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn. Tickets are $19-$29. Call 630-942-4000 or visit www.atthemac.org .