I wish I could say I was more excited about the Joffrey Ballet program that repeats today at Cal Performances. My review in today’s Chronicle:

“It’s less than two weeks since the news hit, and there in the program Thursday night was his name: Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet. A visit from the Joffrey is always notable – the Chicago troupe is rarely seen in the Bay Area, and hasn’t played UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances in decades – but the fresh appointment of Wheater, ballet master and assistant to the artistic director at San Francisco Ballet, made it something more.

This was a chance to check out what he’d be inheriting: an energetic and spunky 51-year-old company known for its richly diverse repertory and a penchant for breaking rules. Unfortunately, the rules being broken in the program continuing tonight are circa 1973. And although rule breaking can be timeless – think Balanchine’s 1928 “Apollo,” as fresh now as the day he made it – everything on view at Zellerbach Hall looks dated and stale.

That’s not these capable dancers’ fault. With American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet also visiting soon, and all dancing Twyla Tharp, Cal Performances decided to build something of a festival around her work. Alas, “Deuce Coupe” is one Tharp dance I’d rather read about in the history books than see.
A sensation in the ’70s, it was the first “crossover” ballet by a modern dance choreographer, setting its 15 dancers in little halter dresses and “Saturday Night Fever”-issue pants shimmying to a Beach Boys medley with typical Tharpian attention deficit.

To underscore its then-eyebrow-raising street cred, there’s a backdrop of spray-painted graffiti.

There’s also a lone soloist (Heather Aagard) in silver dancing classroom ballet steps, a prissy visitor from the other side of that modern dance/ballet Berlin Wall. Perhaps this could all come off as winking good fun (as Tharp’s “The Golden Section” does when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs it). But the Joffrey dancers don’t seem to have their heart in this. The delectable wit of Tharpian phrasing is missing, along with the slouchily virtuosic insouciance. Only Valerie Robin in her sultry “Got to Know the Woman” solo gets in the spirit.”

Click here for the full review.

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