Friday August 24, 2012

BECKET -- One of our na tion's great ballet companies has returned to America's shrine of dance this week after an absence of nearly half a century.

The Joffrey Ballet last performed at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the summer of 1965, as a newly reborn troupe after an emotional and costly break up with its major benefactor, Rebekah Harkness.

For its welcome return, to conclude the Pillow's 80th anni ver sary season, the company has brought three ballets that were new to most of the capacity audience gathered Wednes day evening in the Ted Shawn Thea tre - the Joff rey, based in Chi cago since 1955, in recent years has rarely made tours to the eastern seaboard.

One of these dances, in fact, received its world premiere: "Son of Chamber Symphony," set to John Adams' composition of that name, was created for the occasion by Stanton Welch, the Aus tralian choreographer and artistic director of the Houston Ballet.

Using the Shawn Theatre's handsome wooden rear stage wall with its massive double doors as a backdrop, Welch found his inspiration in Adams' score which provides rich op portunities for solo instrumentalists.

Accordingly, Welch's dance is filled with solos and duets, some extremely demanding, taking advantage of the Joff rey's greatest strength -- Rob ert Joffrey's in ten tion was to establish a company of soloists, rather than the traditional en semble in which the corps is a key element in its danc es, and that philosophy clearly continues to prevail.

Four male dancers at the be ginning of the allegro first move ment enjoy some rambunctious individual and group movement activity, including even pushups, before making Yumelia Garcia, clad in a broad Russian-style tutu the center of their attention. Even t u ally she was claimed for a challenging pas de deux with Mat thew Adamczyk. the first of a trio of male dancers who displayed the evening's best partnering.

The slower, but no less in tense second movement brought Vic tor ia Jaiani and Miguel Blanco together for the work's second duet, a smoothly executed collaboration filled with unusual lifts from Blanco.

The brisk final movement elicited a surprisingly passionate pas de deux from April Daly and Tem ur Suluashvili, given its hectic pace, with Welch often honoring virtually every hemidemisemiquaver tendered by Adams.

After the entire cast -- wo men attired in identical tutus, men in paisley tights by costume designer Travis Halsey -- mixed it up and disappeared, Daly and Suluashvili were left in repose, and strangely alone.

The evening's activities begin with "Age of Innocence," a 2008 work of Taiwanese-Amer ican choreographer Edwaard Liang, set to Philip Glass' consuming Third Symphony and some entirely lyrical film music by Thomas New man to restore order.

Liang has said he was in spired by the novels of Jane Austin, although, of course, his work bears the title of one of Edith Whar ton's seminal tomes.

The Victorian period is the key to understanding Liang's object. The dance takes place, as suggested by the heavily swaged red velvet curtain backdrop, in a ballroom, with eight women and eight men inhibited by Victorian sensibilities initially timorous about making connections.

Clad in sleeveless tops and shorts by costume designer Maria Pinto, the men seem incongruous in the Victorian setting, but later, once the women have shorn their long skirts for similar brevity in attire, more direct 21st-century instincts seem to take over, and the raiment makes more sense.

Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva quickly fall into a delicious romance in "First Dia logue," and "The Men" offers boys being boys in a competitive sequence that gives each -- Derrick Agnoletti, Raul Cas a sola, John Mark Gir ago sian and Aaron Rogers -- solos with lively jetes and turns, and a couple of plies too amazing to believe.

Modern relationships ensue in the pas de deux "Obey Thee," in which April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez explore gradual gender equality, with Daly gaining the upper hand. Still, "Age of Innocence" ends very much as it begins, with the men and women again on separate sides, with that same Victorian yearning as though it all might have been a dream.

Yuri Possokhov, former Bol shoi dancer and resident chor ographer of the San Fran cisco Ballet, not surprisingly bring Russian textures to "Bells," a dance he made in 2011, set to seven pieces for two pianos by Rachmaninov.

Five couples -- clad in San dra Woodall's reddish leotards and sheer shawls for the wo men, bare chests or gauzy un fastened shirts for the men -- explore in several movements the complex natures of relationships. Yumelia Garcia and Mat thew Adamczyk set the pattern of quest in the initial pas de deux, but Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels seemed to summarize best the realities of two as a rather unruly unit.

Amid the serious nuances of co-existence, Possokhov injects some deft folk dance steps to lend whimsy to certain pairings. And affection, perfunctory as it is, is not neglected, as couple kiss on both cheeks prior to moving on, perhaps to new communions.

The Joffrey continues at the Pillow through Sunday, but, ac cording to reports, performances are sold out. Hope for a returned ticket, or, even more fun, make the trip to Chicago to join those lucky balletomanes in the Windy City who enjoy the presence of this marvelous and very original company for several months each year.