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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Northrop hosts Joffrey Ballet after years of delays

Third time’s the charm for the ballet, which successfully performed new pieces this weekend after two previous delays.
The Joffrey Ballet opened with “Serenade” at Northrop on March 25 and 26. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann.

Northrop hosted The Joffrey Ballet this weekend after COVID-19 and a parapet wall failure postponed the original performance.

The Joffrey Ballet is an internationally renowned Chicago-based dance company and training institution. On Saturday and Sunday, the ballet performed three pieces, “Serenade,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Times are Racing.”

“They say that the third time’s the charm and that certainly holds true this weekend,” Northrop’s Executive Director Kari Schloner said in a statement regarding the performance.

The Joffrey Ballet was originally scheduled to perform as part of the 2020-21 season but was postponed due to COVID-19. After a parapet wall collapsed inside Northrop on Jan. 11, it was postponed a second time.

The wall failure left the Carlson Family Stage, where the ballet performed, undamaged.

The Joffrey Ballet had not performed at Northrop since 2019. With the rescheduled performances, they showcased new pieces accompanied by Northrop’s Ballet Orchestra.

Their opening performance, “Serenade,” originally choreographed by 20th Century ballet icon George Balanchine, “is a milestone in the history of dance,” according to the New York City Ballet’s website.

Balanchine originally developed the piece to teach technique and incorporated unexpected events, such as a dancer’s late arrival.

“Serenade” opened with a closed curtain and the sound of pointe shoes on the wood stage. As the curtain rose, it revealed dancers, poised and in perfect rows. The piece has no direct story but features themes of drama and serenity throughout. The Joffrey Ballet premiered their version of the piece in their 2021-22 season.

The second piece, “Of Mice and Men,” was co-sponsored by the Northrop Centennial Commissions, a program created to support companies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Schloner.

Originally a classic novella by American writer John Steinbeck, “Of Mice and Men” follows the relationship between two ranch workers, George and Lenny, their dreams for the future and the murder of a young woman. The ballet version, choreographed by English ballet director Cathy Marston, premiered in April 2022.

The piece featured complex set design, with dancers periodically rearranging benches and blankets on stage while large fences were raised and lowered from the ceiling.

“I really ask the dancers to pay attention to what everybody else is doing in the space,” Marston said in a video for The Joffrey Ballet. “‘Of Mice and Men’ is such a nuanced story, so I really do have to get all those details just right.”

Their final piece, “The Times are Racing,” opens with what may come as a shock to traditional ballet enthusiasts. The dancers were not wearing leotards or pointe shoes, but street clothes including jackets, sneakers and jean shorts. Some wore shirts with bold text such as “PROTEST” and “SHOUT.”

Before the piece began, the instrumentalists from Northrop’s Ballet Orchestra exited the pit. The final piece was instead accompanied by a contemporary experimental music track.

“The Times are Racing,” choreographed by the Tony Award-winning dancer Justin Peck, is a sneaker ballet, a fitting name for a piece in which the squeaks of the dancers’ sneakers replaced the thump of pointe shoes.

The Joffrey Ballet’s performance was met with cheers and a standing ovation Sunday night, a warm response after years of delays.

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