By Elizabeth Czapski | staff writer
The Joffrey Ballet’s opening performance of Swan Lake at the Auditorium Theater in October offered Christopher Wheeldon’s elegant and thought-provoking reimagining Peter Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet.
Wheeldon’s Swan Lake first premiered with the Joffrey in Chicago in 2014 and became one of the Joffrey’s best-selling productions, according to a press release from the ballet company. Now the production has returned to Chicago.
According to the press release, Wheeldon’s vision was influenced by the paintings of Edgar Degas, who was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky and painted ballerinas at the Paris Opera. The program explains Degas also painted ballet patrons, who were assumed to be interested in ballerinas beyond their careers.
Wheeldon’s Swan Lake is set in 19th-century Paris and presents a ballet-within-a-ballet; the Paris Opera is putting on a production of Swan Lake, and a wealthy patron enters the picture, chatting with some of the ballerinas. The principal dancer, who plays Siegfried in the opera’s production, becomes suspicious of the patron’s intentions. Eventually, the principal dancer is consumed by the dances he is rehearsing—fantasy and reality blend together—and he becomes Siegfried, and the story of Swan Lake begins.
The suspicious patron in Wheeldon’s Swan Lake becomes the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart in the principal dancer’s fantasy, creating another remarkable connection to Degas’ artistic themes.
The dancers deliver the story with passion, grace, precision and stunning athleticism, transitioning flawlessly from scene to scene, emotion to emotion. Sorrow turns to love, turns to playfulness with incredible expression. A can-can and strip tease from cabaret dancers provides a light-hearted moment in Act III. The Chicago Philharmonic, conducted by Scott Speck, pulls the audience into the story through the score.
The costumes and set design are nothing short of magical and recall Degas’ paintings.
The Joffrey’s Swan Lake is an outstanding ballet that is not to be missed. The show runs Oct. 17-28 at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University at 50 E. Congress Parkway. More information at joffrey.org.