The Joffrey Ballet, one of America's pioneering ballet companies of the 20th century, makes a rare East Coast appearance to conclude the Jacob's Pillow 80th Anniversary Season August 22–26. The Joffrey Ballet returns for the first time since its high-profile appearances at the Pillow in the 1950s and 60s, presenting an impressive program that features Taiwanese-American choreographer Edwaard Liang's Age of Innocence, Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov's Bells, and the world premiere of Son of Chamber Symphony by Stanton Welch, Artistic Director of Houston Ballet.
The program opens with Edwaard Liang's Age of Innocence, set to music by prolific postmodern composer Philip Glass and the award-winning film composer Thomas Newman. The work is inspired by the writings of Jane Austen and illustrates the spirit of women in the Victorian era despite societal constraints. The work will feature a different cast for every performance. Liang's choreography complements Maria Pinto's "thoughtful costume design [which] cements the 18th/19th century vibe without being too literal" (Catherine L. Tully, The Huffington Post). The ensemble work hearkens to the English country dances so significant in Austen literature, and the expressive pas de deux segments reflect the deepening emotional connection between the men and women in a time of emotional repression. Funded by the Prince Prize to commission original work, Age of Innocence premiered in 2008 and was proclaimed a "newly minted masterpiece" by Hedy Weiss of the Chicago Sun-Times. Liang, a former dancer of New York City Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater, is well known for his acclaimed works Flight of Angels and Distant Cries.
The second work in the triple bill is the luxurious ballet Bells by Yuri Possokhov, former Bolshoi Ballet dancer and resident choreographer of the San Francisco Ballet. Set to seven piano compositions by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Bells "mixes classic form with seething intensity…Possokhov embraces an often exhilarating tradition only to tease and tickle it whenever the mood strikes" (The Chicago Tribune). This work, a meditation on the nature of relationships, features 10 dancers in each of the two casts that display inventive partnering and impressive unison work. Flicked wrists, gyrating hips, and sharp leg movements blend with fluid and lyrical ballet language in a work that manifests a union between the Russian tradition and the American innovations. Bells features costumes by award-winning designer Sandra Woodall, who is credited with the costume design for over 200 productions all over the world, and has worked with some of the most highly-regarded companies such as the Bolshoi Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet.
The program concludes with the world premiere of Australian choreographer and current Artistic Director of Houston Ballet Stanton Welch's Son of Chamber Symphony, set to the eponymous score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams. Welch, a former dancer and resident choreographer of The Australian Ballet, has created works for leading companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet, among many others. A Joffrey commission, Son of Chamber Symphony features costume designs by Travis Halsey and lighting design by Jack Mehler. This will be Welch's second world premiere at the Pillow; in 2011 he choreographed a work on the students of the The School at Jacob's Pillow Ballet Program for the Season Opening Gala. Welch has been named "an undisputed talent" by Anna Kisselgoff and "a staple of the international ballet scene," by Jennifer Dunning, both of The New York Times.
The Joffrey Ballet, founded by Robert Joffrey in 1956 and co-directed for many years by Gerald Arpino, has been considered "America's Company of Firsts:" the first company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television, and the first and only company thus far to appear on the cover of Time magazine, among other achievements. Currently led by Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheater, himself a former Joffrey dancer, and Executive Director Christopher Clinton Conway, the company is based in Chicago, Illinois. Its diverse repertoire includes narrative classical ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces, and commissioned contemporary works. The Joffrey Ballet, comprised of 45 dancers, "has long been known for its versatility, moving as it has from one divergent style to another with easy verve for half a century" (Jennifer Dunning, The New York Times).