Under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey Ballet has developed one of the most exciting programs for contemporary choreography in the world. Thursday evening’s program at The Granada Theatre featured dances old and new, including Birthday Variations, a traditional piece by company cofounder Gerald Arpino from 1986, and Under the Trees’ Voices by Nicolas Blanc, which premiered in 2021. A shorter comic piece, The Sofa by Itzik Galili, followed, preparing the way for a spectacular finale featuring Justin Peck’s 2017 work The Times Are Racing.
Birthday Variations, set to music by Giuseppe Verdi, was a treat for the tutu and pointe-shoe fans. The work’s symmetrical plan offered three variations for solo dancers on either side of a central pas de deux performed by dancers Yumi Kanazawa and José Pablo Castro Cuevas. For the rest of the evening, Birthday Variations functioned as a reminder and, for newcomers, a primer in proper ballet construction and technique.
The works that followed made for a striking contrast. While the technical accomplishments of the dancers remained first-rate, the choreography stretched and transformed into a kaleidoscopic vision of 21st-century dance forms. In Under the Trees’ Voices, the emphasis fell on complex and rapidly shifting compositions for groups, with Miranda Silveira as the third-movement soloist. This work was one of the most thrilling performances on the Granada stage this season, with Blanc demonstrating an abundance of ideas and a profound feeling for Ezio Bosso’s score. The other big piece of the night, The Times Are Racing, showed just how brilliantly the company responds to the considerable demands of Justin Peck’s equally show-stopping choreography. Thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures for bringing the best in contemporary dance to Santa Barbara.