Joffrey Ballet Review

What is world class ballet?  After the Joffrey Ballet’s Sunday performance at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, the answer is clear.  World class ballet is raw beauty, the kind of beauty that makes you stop for a moment, just to let it soak in.  The Joffrey Ballet combined its distinctive choreography with strong, versatile dancers to evoke just that kind of beauty.

Artistic Director, Ashley Wheater, chose four exemplary pieces to showcase his company on this tour.   The evening began with “Reflections,” a neoclassical piece choreographed by Joffrey co-founder, Gerald Arpino, and set to music by Tchaikovsky.  Surprisingly, seeing Arpino’s familiar movements perfectly executed was not the attention grabber, but rather the dancers themselves.  Some of the artists were short by traditional ballet standards, others very tall.  A variety of ethnicities made up the company, and the dancers looked healthy and fit, very fit.  They captivated the audience with a unique beauty that comes from authenticity and strength.

During the second piece, “…smile with my heart,” I realized that I was in fact, smiling the entire time.  Choreographer, Lar Lubovitch choreographed this piece as a tribute to Richard Rogers’ music (of Rogers and Hammerstein fame).  This selection featured three couples who charmed the audience with playful steps reminiscent of the Gene Kelly era, and triggered and audible “awe” from the audience.  Each couple moved in a harmony seen only in innocent, young love.

“Sea Shadow” was the second Arpino classic, performed to the music of Ravel.  The pas de deux, inspired by the Ondine fable of a fisherman who discovers a mermaid-like creature in his nets, had the elements of a classical story ballet, with modern movements.  Simple yet elegant costumes and lighting intensified this selection’s ethereal beauty.

The performance ended with Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence,” the most progressive selection.  “Age” was inspired by Jane Austen’s novels dealing with the challenges of women in the late eighteenth century.  Liang’s unpredictable choreography spanned from historic court dancing to ultra-modern angular motions.  The haunting music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman added to the complexity of this thirty minute ballet and kept me wondering what was coming next.  Six-foot-six dancer, Fabrice Calmels’ elegance infused strength added an unprecedented eclectic beauty to this dance.

Opportunities to witness the raw beauty of a world class ballet are rare for most of us, and usually require a trek to a large metropolitan venue.  Every once in a while, the rainbow ends in the Conejo Valley, as it did last Sunday, and we do stop to let the beauty soak in.