ASHLEY WHEATER: GLOBAL VISIONARIES AT JOFFREY BALLET
For a moment, Ashley Wheater pauses to reflect on the journey that he has been on with the Joffrey Ballet for nearly 10 years.
It’s a short rehearsal break on April 19th during a very busy week, and yet he is thoughtful, generous and speaks passionately on a wide range of topics during our conversation. He calls the excitement generated by the superb debut of Christopher Wheeldon's Nutcracker last fall “incredibly gratifying.” However, his pride shines vividly through in acknowledging that the Joffrey dancers have had so many amazingly creative experiences this season. Like every arts organization, the Joffrey keeps evolving. “Art," says Wheater, “never stands still, and we keep moving forward.”
Things have been moving forward rapidly for the Joffrey Ballet when you consider the new take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet presented here last fall and in New York a few weeks ago, Wheeldon’s Nutcracker, the innovative Game Changers, and now, Global Visionaries, opening April 26th for a 10 performance run through May 7th at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.
In our conversation, Wheater provides unique insight into the production development process, the world-renowned choreographers approach to the material and what’s ahead for the Chicago-based company that is raising the bar in the world of dance.
On the Miraculous Mandarin and choreographer Yuri Possokhov …
“Béla Bartók’s score was specifically written for dance. It is quite a dangerously, dark tale ... Yuri has this deep, theatrical flare to his choreography. He grew up in the Bolshoi. He was a principal dancer there, a magnificent artist. He has shown us a very different way of using movement to tell narrative story. It is incredibly gripping.”
Unique staging …
“When we did the collaboration with Cleveland, we did it at Severence Hall … the orchestra and the company on stage together … the logistics of how much space we could find within the confines of an enormous orchestra. The impact was monumental. We have brought it to Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre … We have the fantastic Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck … We have raised the pit and built the floor out into the auditorium … The audience will feel like they are really close, both to the music and the action of the dance.”
Developing Episode 47 and Alexander Ekman ...
“Alex wanted to come in and workshop with the company and see what would come out of that dialogue, between Alex and the company. And it really is the entire company. He has them doing a lot of improv … He asked the dancers what it is about their work, their career and what they do every day that brings them joy. And so they are all open to their own interpretation of what is joy in their work. … The one thing about Alex’s work is that he is deadly serious about how it is executed. … His timing is incredible.”
Mammatus and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa ...
“We presented Mammatus (“Formation of Clouds”) in 2015 and it was part of a non-subscription program, so we only had a handful of performances. Coming back to it, we’re able to dig deeper, the company understands it better. … Annabelle, like Alex and Yuri, is a fearless choreographer with very clear ideas. … She started working with the company, took this huge group of people, and made it really evolve and gave stunning parts to everyone in it. … You can look at it as this incredible flood of blackbirds. There is aggression to it, but there is also an incredible beauty to it … All of this amazing push, and then, at the end of the work, two people seem to float within the clouds.”
Understanding multiple layers…
“Our dancers want to understand the work at all the multiple layers. If we are going to do these works, we have to understand them … both in their choreographic language and also in their musical language. All too often we leave the musical phrasing out of things, which I do not agree with. … Whether it's this contemporary program we are doing ... whether it's opening our season next year with Giselle, one of the greatest romantic ballets of all time … whether it’s George Balenchine's Four Temprements, or Jerome Robbins|Philip Glass work Glass Pieces, there is so much in the repertory for the company. What I have found is that every single year they raise the bar because I raise the bar, and I think collectively, we really love the work we are doing here.”
GLOBAL VISIONARIES TICKETS
The Miraculous Mandarin (Chicago Premiere)
Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov
In collaboration with The Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov has created a new work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet: The Miraculous Mandarin, a magnificent tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring a wealthy mandarin to his tragic fate. Set to Béla Bartók’s 1926 score, Possokhov reimagines this story ballet for seven dancers to explore the tragic, dark passions between men and women.
Episode 47 (World Premiere)
Choreographed by Alexander Ekman
Brimming with Alexander Ekman’s trademark originality and humor, Episode 47 explores the feeling of joy through dance to serve as a remedy to our uncertain times. Incorporating movements based on improvisation, Ekman sets this large ensemble work to a modern mix of music including the Grammy-nominated Brad Mehldau Trio’s bluesy Since I Fell for You; Django Django’s psychedelic dance hit, First Light, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes and Moby’s LA5.
Choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
This powerful, abstract piece features 20 dancers in a series of ensembles and duets set to contemporary composer Michael Gordon’s Weather One. A minimalist stage, equipped with tree branches lit with LED lights, sets the scene while dancers represent surreal insects and birds through organic movements to explore the nonlinear essence of nature and turbulent cloud formations.