Review: Game Changers (Joffrey Ballet of Chicago)

| February 23, 2017

Sarah Lamb and Ricardo Cervera in Infra, The Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet (Bill Cooper)           

Game Changers

Choreographed by Justin Peck,
  Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru Jan 26  |  tix: $34 and up  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Beautiful and groundbreaking


Infra by The Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet Game Changers (Bill Cooper)

Joffrey Ballet presents
Game Changers

Review by Lauren Whalen

After a unique and moving new Nutcracker, Joffrey Ballet continues its tradition of excellence with Game Changers. The three-part program featuring choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and Justin Peck is a gorgeous celebration of the old and new. With reimaginings of both classical and modern music, spare but elegant costuming and thought-provoking narratives, each piece stands strongly on its own and contributes to the whole: a fabulous evening for balletomanes and newbies alike. Game Changers is unmissable, a winning showcase of the future of ballet.

Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton in Infra, Joffrey Ballet Game Changers (Bill Cooper)The evening begins with Fool’s Paradise, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Wheeldon’s work has garnered worldwide acclaim, not just in the ballet world, but on Broadway with the recent An American in Paris, which will tour through Chicago this spring. Additionally, Wheeldon is the brains behind Joffrey’s new Nutracker, set in Chicago on the Christmas before the opening of the Columbian World’s Fair. Fool’s Paradise premiered at Joffrey in 2015 and remains a lovely new favorite. Set to Joby Talbot’s contemporary score to the 1916 silent film “The Dying Swan”, the piece also evokes the fantasy fairyland of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Wheeldon’s choreography pays homage to classical but makes a whole new set of rules, with as many same-gender pas de deux as the more traditional male-female. Even between dances, Wheeldon’s choreography evokes one long, continuous and beautiful movement, and no one is more masterful at narrative. Fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez’s costuming is deceptively simple and exquisite, and the opening shower of flower petals completes the stunning effect.

Next is Wayne McGregor’s INFRA, which premiered at Joffrey in 2012 to great renown. INFRA provides a sharp contrast to Fool’s Paradise, trading old-fashioned romanticism for a sharp look at personal intimacy amid the organized chaos of technological society. McGregor uses an LED screen as a backdrop to his movements, which resemble contemporary, except with toe shoes. Moritz Junge’s costume design incorporates streetwear with ballet clothes, and many of the female dancers even sport ponytails instead of the usual tightly-controlled buns and twists. I was fortunate to see INFRA at its 2012 Joffrey premiere, and its imagery has stayed with me ever since. Five years later, when society is even more dependent on, yet at odds with, technology, the piece is an even more poignant, urgent reminder of the need for real connection.

Fools Paradise, Game Changers, Joffrey BalletSarah Lamb and Ricardo Cervera in Infra, The Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet (Bill Cooper) Jeraldine Mendoza and John Mark Giragosian in INFRA at Joffrey Ballet Game ChangersApril Daly and Fabrice Calmels in Fools Paradise, Joffrey Ballet Game Changers

The program closes with Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit (Selections from the Chinese Zodiac). Peck has become a star in the New York ballet world, and was even the subject of the documentary film “Ballet 422” (now available on Netflix). Year of the Rabbit is a flawless combination of retro and modern, reminiscent of Agnes de Mille and old movie musicals while bringing a much-needed update. Peck’s choreography is fast-paced and vibrant, incorporating several pas de deux with small solos and big groups, underscored by Michael P. Atkinson’s classical reimagining of music written by pop-folk artist Sufjan Stevens. Peck also designed the simple blue-green costumes, beautifully accented by Brandon Stirling Baker’s white and orange lighting. The whole effect is like a modern-day Oklahoma: quick and bright, with deep emotional moments.

Game Changers is classic Joffrey: strong and stylish dancers flawlessly executing envelope-pushing choreography. The program is thoughtfully put together, with nods to ballet’s roots and genuine excitement for its future. Thanks to programs like Game Changers, it’s easy to perceive ballet as alive, well and accessible to all.

Rating: ★★★★

Game Changers continues through Feb 26th at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. (map).  Tickets start at $34, and are available by phone (312-341-2300) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes two intermissions)

Yoshihisa Arai, Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velazquez in Fools Paradise, Joffrey Ballet

Photos by Cheryl Mann, Bill Cooper




Note: casting varies according to performance. For specific casting information, visit

Matthew Adamczyk, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai, Amanda Assucena, Artur Babajanyan, Edson Barbosa, Miguel Angel Blanco, Anais Bueno, Fabrice Calmels, Raúl Casasola, Valeriia Chaykina, Nicole Ciapponi, Lucia Connolly, April Daly, Fernando Duarte, Cara Marie Gary, Stefan Goncalvez, Luis Eduardo Gonzalez, Dylan Gutierrez, Rory Hohenstein, Anastacia Holden, Dara Holmes, Riley Horton, Victoria Jaiani, Hansol Jeong, Gayeon Jung, Yumi Kanazawa, Brooke Linford, Graham Maverick, Jeraldine Mendoza, Jacqueline Moscicke, Aaron Renteria, Christine Rocas, Paulo Rodrigues, Chloé Sherman, Temur Suluashvili, Olivia Tang-Mifsud, Alonso Tepetzi, Elivelton Tomazi, Alberto Velazquez, Mahallia Ward, Joanna Wozniak, Joan Sebastián Zamora

behind the scenes

For the Joffrey Ballet: Ashley Wheater (artistic director), Greg Cameron (executive director), Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino (co-founders), Scott Speck (music director), Gerard Charles (director of artistic operations, ballet master), Nicolas Blanc (ballet master, principal coach), Adam Blyde, Suzanne Lopez (ballet masters), Paul James Lewis (senior pianist, music administrator), Grace Kim (company pianist)

For “Fool’s Paradise”: Christopher Wheeldon (choreography), Joby Talbot (music), Narciso Rodriguez (costume design), Penny Jacobus (lighting design), Jack Mehler (lighting re-creation), Jason Fowler (staging)

For “Infra”: Wayne McGregor (choreography), Max Richter (music), Julian Opie (set design), Moritz Junge (costume design), Lucy Carter (lighting design), Jack Mehler (lighting re-creation), Chris Ekers (sound design), Davide di Pretoro (coaching)

For “Year of the Rabbit”: Justin Peck (choreography. costume design), Sufjan Stevens (music), Michael P. Atkinson (orchestration), Brandon Stirling Baker (lighting design), Janie Taylor (staging)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Auditorium Theatre, Dance, Joffrey Ballet, Lauren Whalen

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