Dance becomes a paintbrush for illustration in the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet’s nationally touring tribute “American Legends,” coming Sunday to the UA’s Centennial Hall.
A program of four pieces spanning nearly 70 years of significant music and dance will showcase the work of Jerome Robbins, Morton Gould, Gerald Arpino, Twyla Tharp, Stanton Welch, John Adams and Frank Sinatra.
“The idea for this program began last year, when we were discussing a commissioned work with Stanton,” said Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey’s artistic director.
Yes, Welch is from Australia. But he has been making big waves at the Houston Ballet, both as artistic director and choreographer, since 2003.
“We talked about quite a few pieces of music, but when Stanton mentioned John Adams and his ‘Son of Chamber Symphony,’ I knew that was it.
“For me, Adams personifies where we are musically as a country today,” said Wheater. “He is deconstructing classical music, which appeals to me. For this piece, Stanton is deconstructing our own ballet language. His choreography is a brilliant realization of the Adams’ score.”
Adding perspective to this fresh Joffrey statement on modern times is a pair of well-established audience favorites by other American artists. Opening the evening is Jerome Robbins’ 1945 Broadway exploration “Interplay,” set to Gould’s music, with choreographic concepts Robbins would develop in “West Side Story” 10 years later.
Set on four couples with sassy attitudes and flirtatious ways, their street-wise moves put an edge on Gould’s composition for piano and orchestra.
Tharp’s innovative choreography from 1982 set to those nine classic Frank Sinatra recordings proved there was a place for ballet in the postmodern world. The song list includes “One for My Baby,” “All the Way” and “That’s Life.”
“What’s so lovely about this program is that it’s taking the audience on a journey both beautiful and accessible,” Wheater continued.
A further nod to the Joffrey’s own dance world contributions is represented by company co-founder Gerald Arpino’s 1962 pas de deux “Sea Shadow” to music by Maurice Ravel. The narrative here begins with that perennial fantasy sailors have about mermaids.
Last summer “American Legends” received its world premiere in Chicago with 10 performances. Wheater said “people were wowed” and the company started planning a tour. Tucson was included, along with Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans.