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  • Megan Kudla

The Joffrey Ballet Presents New Contemporary Choreography with Studies in Blue

Two dancers posing; Joffrey Ballet's Studies in Blue
Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Throughout the years, contemporary and modern dance have continually influenced ballet repertoire, introducing fresh ideas by blending styles; and The Joffrey Ballet, in its 68th season, continues a tradition of bringing in contemporary choreographers to infuse new vocabulary into their classic ballet language. Studies in Blue will be the next mixed repertory program performed by the company from February 15 to February 24, 2024, at the Lyric Opera House (20 North Upper Wacker Drive) in Chicago.

 

This particular program will feature works from three global choreographers: Yonder Blue, by Andrew McNicol, with music by Peter Gregson; Hummingbird, by Liam Scarlett, with music by Philip Glass; and the world premiere of Hungry Ghosts, by Stina Quagebeur, with music by Jeremy Birchall.

 

For McNicol, choreography has always been a way to break rules. He not only travels the world setting work on companies like the Royal Ballet of Flanders and, of course, The Joffrey Ballet, but he also has recently established his own company, McNicol Ballet Collective. With this, he can continually create projects that he says are “rooted in evolving the classical ballet language.”

 

He originally created Yonder Blue for Joffrey in 2019. This season, he’s looking at his piece through a new lens, with new dancers, and digging deeper into his original intent to explore ideas of physical and metaphorical distance.

 

A source of his inspiration came from a collection of essays called “A Plea for Eros,” in which the author describes the word “yonder” as one that “wobbles,” “shifts,” and can change meaning. It also implies a kind of unreachable arrival point. How does this show up in dance? Between and within moving bodies? This is part of his investigation.

 

Music also has an impact on McNicol’s process in creating what he calls a “whole dramatic world,” and Yonder Blue, in particular, is set to a Peter Gregson score.


Two ballet dancers holding one another intimately; The Joffrey Ballet's Studies in Blue
Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez Photo by Todd Rosenberg

McNicol says, “It reminds me of nature…landscapes…vastness, and that sense of space and distance that you try to comprehend when you see an amazing landscape or environment. And yet, at the same time, his music also has a real intimacy and sense of warmth…That idea of distance and closeness to ourselves and each other seemed to kind of connect.”  

 

And what about the word “blue”? McNicol describes it as having associations with concepts like “melancholy and coldness” along with the theme of “nature and landscapes.” With the minimalist light blue costuming and sparce stage design, those attributes rear their head within Yonder Blue. And with the entire production entitled Studies in Blue, it will be intriguing to see how “blue” may show up in other diverse ways within the evening’s performances.

 

“Contemporary ballet as a definition can take on different meanings for different people,” McNicol said. “There’s a real kind of commitment to using the ballet language and evolving it, and using it in ways that feel fresh and relevant for today, and I think that’s definitely evident in the program.”

 

McNicol hopes audiences will have individualized experiences when viewing his work, being moved in different ways. He stresses that he believes there is no right or wrong way to extract meaning from choreography.

 

So whether you are seeing these three pieces for the first time, or you’re returning to see a piece like Yonder Blue again, Studies in Blue will present an opportunity to have new thoughts and reactions as you walk away from the theater this February.

 

You can get your tickets, starting at $36, to one of the ten performances of Studies in Blue at Joffrey.org.

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