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Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

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When Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino loaded up a station wagon and U-Haul in 1956 to bring an American style of ballet to the masses, they couldn't have known their new company would enjoy the incredible longevity it has. Forty-three years later the company started dancing a work by a choreographer also emblematic of American dance in the 50s, Alwin Nikolais. A former puppet master alarmed by the emotionality and sexuality of modern dance at the time (think Martha Graham), he used masks, lighting, and props to obscure the individual performers and create abstract designs onstage. In Tensile Involvement (1953) the dancers manipulate long, stretchy colored bands attached to the floor and ceiling, creating the look of a cat's cradle or spiderweb. Presented as the opening sequence of Robert Altman's The Company--inspired by the Joffrey and set in part in its studios--it's one of several works from the movie being performed during the troupe's spring engagement. As it turns out, these crossover dances are illuminated by the film. When I rewatched The Company I found that Tensile Involvement highlights the compass points of the body in ways Nikolais probably didn't intend: the dancers create rectangles around themselves with the banners, calling to mind Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian man. White Widow, a solo piece on a swing by Moses Pendleton and Cynthia Quinn, is shot to enhance its sense of weightlessness and dreamy isolation from the real world, a dancer's nirvana. The other works from the film slated for performance are Laura Dean's sizzling Creative Force (May 5 and 15 only) and Arpino's Light Rain (May 16 only). Also on the bill are Joffrey's 1956 Pas des Deesses, Arpino's 1971 Valentine, and his new duet, Ruth, Ricordi per Due. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500 or 312-739-0120, ext. 20, for groups of ten or more. Through May 16: Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $23-$88.

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