Review: Joffrey Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

With a bonus appearance by Nigel Lythgoe

The Music Center all but set off fireworks to trumpet the return of the Joffrey Ballet to Los Angeles, and that was just for a weekend performance of Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). The Chicago-based company was in residence here in the 1980s, when it restaged the 1913 classic. Choreographed by the legendary Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and set to music by Igor Stravinsky, the piece caused an uproar when it debuted a century ago but had found acclaim here. Depicting a fertility ritual marked by jumping and shuddering motions, the ballet seemed to usher in a modern age of dance; it showed no traces of classical technique.

Fast-forward to the recent three-performance run downtown, which kicked off LA’s Rite, a nearly yearlong celebration of the famous work. On hand at the symposium at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were historians Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer (who revived the ballet based on archival materials) and Beatriz Rodriguez (the ex-Joffrey dancer who performed the lead role in 1987).

But on opening night, no amount of scholarly discourse could match the zingers uttered by my seatmate: Nigel Lythgoe. Happenstance (thank you, ticket gods!) put me side by side with the executive producer and judge of So You Think You Can Dance. What I’ve come to call “My Evening with Nigel (and his date, Priscilla Presley)” proved to be the secret ingredient that was missing from all the hype behind the Joffrey’s visit. It was what wasn’t orchestrated (Nigel’s sharp, off-the-cuff humor) that helped make the experience shine.

Nigel’s reaction to Rite? “Pocahontas on Ambien.” To the wisplike form of dancer Victoria Jaiani? “She needs a couple of Krispy Kremes.” To her pas de deux partner, Fabrice Calmels? “I think I’ll go to the gym in the morning; that guy had a 12-pack.”

Jaiani and Calmels appeared in both of the evening’s repertory pieces: Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. The couple was exceptional—long limbed and superhuman in their flexibility, control, and grace. Nigel was riveted: “I have a crush on her.”

Check out the exhibition, on view through Sunday, that explores Stravinsky’s influence on dance in Los Angeles. Then stay tuned for American Ballet Theatre’s arrival in July for Apollo, a Stravinsky-Balanchine collaboration.

I’ll let Nigel know.