Even as art evolves, it retains elements of the past that remain significant today. This proved particularly true Tuesday night when Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet performed in a Northrop Concerts and Lectures presentation at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

Although the three works on the program spanned the course of a century, each shared elements of innovation that were not only complementary but also told a compelling story about ballet’s past and future.

“Son of Chamber Symphony” (2012), choreographed by Stanton Welch, artistic director of Houston Ballet, opened the show. Set to a John Adams score that changes musical personalities from moment to moment (elegant, austere, rambunctious), the piece twists and torques traditional notions of classical ballet into postmodern poetry in motion. While all of the Joffrey company members shone throughout the evening here, April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez delivered a sublime pas de deux highlighting Welch’s gift for inspiring an effortless sense of flow and buoyancy in his dancers.

William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” (1987) may be more than 25 years old but it remains a fascinating study of the seemingly limitless possibilities for physical extension. Set to a spare and at times thunderous set of electronic beats created by Thom Willems in collaboration with Leslie Stuck, the choreography demands that the nine dancers’ limbs and torsos elongate to a near breaking point as they slice and sculpt the space with knife-like precision. Victoria Jaiani, Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas were especially effective when building upon Forsythe’s cool brilliance with the sort of “work it” confidence usually reserved for the catwalk.

The night concluded with a rousing interpretation of 1913’s historic “Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)” choreographed after Vaslav Nijinsky and reconstructed by Millicent Hodson in 1987. Igor Stravinsky composed the tumultuous music, which remains infamous for its polyphonic madness. The movement is unique — turned in feet, balled up fists, ritual-like folk-dance-derived groupings — all driven by propulsive primal rhythms. Erica Lynette Edwards, performing the role of “The Chosen One,” was transformative as she danced under threat of doom. Her vertical leaps — the kinetic equivalent of yelps — summed up her struggle to survive.

The students in the University of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Mark Russell Smith, performed the Adams and Stravinsky scores live, embracing each composition’s considerable challenges with admirable focus and verve.


Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.