Princely ballet


Joffrey Ballet

On video release

The four choreographers of Joffrey Balle's "Billboards" have definitely taken their artistic inspiration from the score's eccentric composer. Newly released on home video, the remarkable ballet is to a compilation of the music of Prince, and the pieces are wrought with intensity, emotion and sexual energy. As is so often the case with Prince's music videos, some things take place on stage which transcend the bounds of appropriate viewing. But then, you won't see the dancers having this much fun performing "Swan Lake."

Gerald Arpino, co-founder and artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet, conceived and directed this ferocious full-length rock ballet. Prince gave permission for the company to use the highly respected troupe perform for the first time. Actively involved in the collaboration, Prince composed a specially extended version of "Thunder" of The Joffrey.

But the star's influence extends beyond the musical score. The contemporary American choreographers have distinctively infused their pieces with his unique style. What's more, a print of Prince's face stares out intently from the screen at numerous intervals, although he need dominate the atmosphere further.


The work of Laura Dean opens the show rather demurely, with a lyrical dance by the corps to "Sometimes It Shoes in April." The first piece is very classical, not at all portending what is to come. In silver, softly flowing costumes the dancers move through posesand in and out of canon. Although visuallyattractive, the piece does not do justice to theemotional intensity of Prince's tender song offrustrated love, with such lines as, "All goodthings, they say, never last."

The next two pieces do not live up to theballet as a whole, either. "Trust" and "Baby I'm aStar" feature the same dancers in a jazz segmentthat seems more inspired by the likes of "SaturdayNight Fever." The onrush of swinging hips severelycontradicts the dancers' classic appearances,especially of the women, en point and hair pulledinto tight buns. The dancers stream across thestage with impressive leaps and astound theaudience with lifts more characteristic of "StarSearch" dance competitions.

The lights go red and "Thunder," choreographedby Charles Moulton, begins with the entrance ofdancers outrageously painted and costumed with amedieval flair. An interesting but terribly oddpiece, it features Elizabeth Parkinson leading agroup of pelvic-thrusting dancers scrambling andflinging each other around the stage. Althoughthis segment is more mine than dance, "Thunder" isat its best during the highly choreographedinstances when the uninhibited dancers execute afast-paced and dramatic range of movements. One ofthe best pieces follows Prince's well-known"Purple Rain." Valerie Madina performs a solo in aclown costume with her face painted afrighteningly glowing white. Every facialexpression of hers deepens into amazingly dramaticemotion and the intensity surges through her body,wrenched with pain and torment.

The second half of "Billboards," featuring thechoreography of Margo Sappington, then PeterPucci, elevates the energy , especially the sexualenergy five different songs with a brilliantlycohesive and magnetic flair. Sappington's workexplores the joy and sensuality of desire, as wellas its conflicting emotions. The talent of theJoffrey dancers shines in these segments,especially the duets and trios. Their mix ofartistry, athleticism and technique combinemagnificently in brining out the excellentchoreography. "Willing and Able," by Pucci,features an incredibly erotic duet between JodieGates and Peter Gardner, who, if they ever havetheir hands off of each other, are reaching outfor another embrace.

All of the choreographers seem to incorporateanother interesting element into their respectivepieces. Male and female dancers dance almost asequal partners; the females often supportextensions executed by the male dancers. PeterPucci even has same-sex and mixed-sex pairssimultaneously performing erotic moves. it isPrince, after all, who decided to label himselfwith a new symbol for one without a sexualdesignation.

They skip graceful curtsies during the finalapplause: even their highly choreographed bows atthe end have attitude. While The Joffrey Balletwas touring, "Billboards" played to consistentlysold-out audiences and standing ovations. Thiswork is certainly a highlight in their remarkablydiverse repertoire. The perpetual whistling andcheering from the crowd during the performance mayget tedious, but the audience's abundantenthusiasm reflects the excitement of the ballet

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