Preview: Joffrey Ballet will present a new work adapted from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice And Men”
Joffrey Ballet’s spring program will combine an iconic story by John Steinbeck transformed into a modern ballet with Serenadea classic ballet by George Balanchine created in the 1930s. The program will premiere on Wednesday, April 27 and run for 10 performances at Joffrey’s new home, the Lyric Opera House.
Choreographer Cathy Marston has created a new ballet drama based on Steinbeck’s 1937 short story, Of mice and Men, his first original work for the Joffrey. She is known for adapting classical literature to classical ballet. His new work is a tragic story of two migrants named George and Lennie, who seek agricultural work in Depression-era California. George, played by Xavier Nuñez, is a friend and assistant to Lennie (Dylan Gutierrez). Throughout dance history, both men face tough choices that test their friendship.
We could see a repeat of Marston Of mice and Men at Joffrey Tower this week.
The cast is predominantly male with a single dancer, who plays Curley’s wife (she is nameless in Steinbeck’s story, serving as a symbol or foil to the men). Curley is the Boss’ son, a pugnacious character who dislikes Lennie.
It was interesting to see six male dancers performing what appeared to be farm work routines, using a set of wooden benches as versatile props. Choreographer Marston led and occasionally stopped to give notes to dancers with rehearsal director Adam Blyde.
The score for Of mice and Men is by Thomas Newman, who received Academy Award nominations for his film scores forFall from Heaven, 1917 and The Shawshank Redemption. This is his first ballet score. music for both Serenade and Of mice and Men will be performed live by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck, Joffrey’s musical director.
The choreographer Marston, who created Jane Eyre (directed by Joffrey in 2019) and is currently working on a production of Mrs Robinson for the San Francisco Ballet, she was asked in an interview how she came to choose Steinbeck’s story as her ballet project. “I studied it in school. I remember being incredibly moved by it and remain so to this day. It was always a story that I loved and touched me. By becoming choreographer and continuing to draw inspiration from literature, it’s been in my mind as a piece, but it requires a specific casting. [Joffrey Artistic Director] Ashley [Wheater] about the parts I would like to do, he immediately said, “Well, do it for Joffrey.” “
Her approach, she said, “focuses on the characters – developing the vocabulary, then setting the scenes, working from the inside out.” Marston says of his choreographic process, “He always looks at the heart of the person in front of me, then works with the physical material he generates later.”
The program will open with the premiere of Joffrey’s Serenadeon the score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Serenade was Balanchine’s first ballet premiered in America in 1934 and was originally a lesson in stage technique; Balanchine would incorporate unexpected events from the rehearsals into the choreography. Serenade presents four movements based on Tchaikovsky’s score: Sonatina, Valse, Russian Dance and Elegy.
If you haven’t read Of mice and Men since school days, you might want to read the book (or at least a summary) to appreciate the choreography of Joffrey’s production. The short story is only 107 pages.
I vividly remember a Steppenwolf Theater production of Of mice and Men in 1981 in a black box theater at the Jane Adams Center and then on Broadway at Lakeview. Gary Sinise directed and starred George with John Malkovich as Lennie. The screenplay was adapted for film by Horton Foote and released in 1992 with Sinise and Malkovich starring and Sinise directing. Sinise was nominated for the Palme d’Or for Best Direction of a Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
Joffrey’s spring program runs Wednesday, April 27 through Sunday, May 8 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Tickets are $35-$199. Purchase online or at the official Joffrey Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St. Duration is one hour and 50 minutes. For more information on this and other productions, visit theatreinchicago.com.
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