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The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Dallas

The Joffrey Ballet in “The Rite of Spring”

Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. And she’s a member of Muscle Nation.

“I always want to be a little left of center,” says Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS. The group’s first offering for the 2013 dance season is just that as TITAS presents Chicago’s famed Joffrey Ballet and its re-creation of the original, riot-inducing production of Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House tonight and Saturday. It’s the first time the Joffrey has been to Dallas in two decades, and if the company is going to return, it might as well come back with a historically defining performance.

I recently spoke with Charles about what this production means to Dallas and what else the Joffrey has in store for us this weekend.

Danielle Georgiou: How did the return of the Joffrey to Dallas come about? It’s been 20 years – how did you convince the group to return?

Charles Santos: It was mutual, but on our end the decision was part of a bigger picture. TITAS has always been known for its music and dance programming, especially its dance programming. And I always strive for a balanced act between pushing the envelope and supporting experimental groups and bringing more mainstream acts. When we are planning out seasons, we look to see who is available. But then there are situations that you can’t ignore – things that come up that you just have to have, and this was one of them. It’s the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring, and it is the epitome of combining dance and music. More than that, it changed the dance world.

That it did. Harvard University professor Thomas Kelly suggests that one of the reasons the 1913 Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring created such a furor was that it shattered everyone’s expectations. It was shocking, it was offensive – a performance so vile that the audience rioted. One of the original dancers recalled that Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking choreography was physically unnatural to perform: “With every leap we landed heavily enough to jar every organ in us.” Current Joffrey dancer Matthew Adamczyk agrees, telling Theater Jones that Nijinsky’s choreography was, “meant to shock and awe … everything you would imagine a classical dancer to look like, this is the opposite.” Coupled with music that is itself angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable, Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes, and Nijinksy created a piece predestined to rock the Paris scene.

Let’s imagine 1913 Paris. It’s a quieter time. Ballet has ruled the large opera houses; modern dance isn’t even a glimmer in people’s eyes—nor has it graced such grand stages. The audience is genteel in nature, well-mannered beyond good graces. They want to see exquisite ballerinas exuding eternal youth and virginity. Tutus reigning, pointed toes, men executing powerful leaps and guiding their women through the performance. They want the safe world of gold and glitter and ballet.

What they got was no Swan Lake. Instead, men in bear suits stomped around fighting each other, and women in unforgiving dresses whipped their hair back and forth, standing pigeon-toed. It hurt, both the dancers and the audience, but it helped progress the nature of dance and performance.

“The Rite of Spring”

C.S.: It was a battle to get this piece to Dallas, but I knew I had to have it. It was the best of both worlds: a large mainstream company – who hadn’t been to the city in two decades – and a work that is historical, influential and experimental. It marked the birth of Modernism, and the world, and the performing arts, has never been the same. It was such an important piece to how we view art and how dance can be staged and performed.

D.G.: This really is a great combination, the Joffrey and TITAS, because there’s a marriage of ideas. TITAS wants to bring new and exciting work to Dallas, and the Joffrey has always set out to experiment with new ways of moving.

CS: Yes, I think so too. There is something to be said about tipping the scales, and always being a little left of center.

In addition to The Rite of Spring, the Joffrey will perform an Edwaard Liang piece, Age of Innocence, and a Christopher Wheeldon piece, After the Rain

Liang’s piece was commissioned for the Joffrey in 2008 and was inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. An exploration of what Liang told the Chicago Tribune is a “tragedy for women [at that time]…the hierarchy they endured and the arranged marriages,” he wanted to evoke, “the smell, texture, and energy of those grand ballrooms and houses.”  Wheeldon’s After the Rain is a ballet in two parts: the first is set to Arvo Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” and features three couples; the second, only one couple returns with a haunting pas de deux to Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel.”

The remainder of this interview will be published in the February issue of Art+Culture Magazine.