This past weekend, The Joffrey Ballet School’s concert group and contemporary trainees joined forces to present their second annual winter concert at Peridance’s Salvatore Capezio Theatre. With somewhere around 150 dancers and eight pieces (as well as an intermission), it would be easy for this program to feel over long; but it was impossible not to share in the dancers’ infectious enthusiasm and complete investment in the surprisingly adult movement.
My three favorite pieces were concert group associate artistic director Brian McSween’s One Last Breath Amongst A Cloud of Witnesses; Daniel Gwirtzman’s Encore; and Donald Bryd’s Drastic Cuts, Act I. McSween’s piece was a tribute to his mother, with soloist Shaina Wire dancing the principal role. The entire cast was clad in white, and as this piece appeared to deal with the death of the central character, it could’ve easily turned saccharine. What saved it was truly intricate and challenging partnering, handled with ease by the dancers, and a wonderfully high energy level from the entire company.
Gwirtzman’s Encore was a nice departure from the rest of the program—it incorporated some moments of dance theater. A demanding choreographer (Imani Williams, in the performance I saw) leads his large cast of dancers through a final, grueling rehearsal. There are a lot of fun moments here—at one point, when Williams had the company take a grand plié, he reminded them that it’s “not emotional; it’s just a plié”—and t
he incredibly fast movement is set to some really delicious jazz music. And there are costume changes, too! I loved seeing these young dancers outside of a dark, contemporary, heavy context. They looked like they were having genuine fun.
Byrd’s 1992 piece Drastic Cuts is one of those dark, contemporary pieces, but it’s also extremely precise and physical, expertly handled by these young dancers. Mio Morales’ electronic music gives the piece an air of tension, and the pace at which these dancers need to slice their legs and arms through space is awe-inducing.