“Serenade” and “Of Mice and Men” – Joffrey Presents Two Premieres

Joffrey Artist Edson Barbosa and ensemble, Photo: Cheryl Mann
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I was thrilled to be back at the Joffrey in person at the Lyric Opera House.to enjoy the spring program which opened with the Joffrey premiere of Serenade by dance pioneer George Balanchine, set to the score of “Serenade” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In stark contrast, it was followed by the world-premiere adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by choreographer Cathy Marston, set to a score by Academy Award®-nominated composer Thomas Newman, his first-ever work for ballet. This was a spectacular evening of contrasts, which will play only until May 8th, 2022.  Get your tickets now.

On this very special evening, honoring the words of Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “Fill the silence with your music…” the Lyric artists under the baton of Scott Speck, filled the silence with Melody by Ukrainian Composer, Myroslav Skoryk –  an apt tribute before the dance began.

Serenade Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Joffrey Artists Jeraldine Mendoza and Valeria Chaykina (front) and ensemble, Photo: Cheryl Mann

As the curtain opened for the first number and the stage revealed, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Performed by 26 dancers in blue costumes against a blue background, three men among them, it is impactful. The particular shades of blue were uplifting and the work felt ethereal.  This was a wonderful example of the special relationship that Balanchine had with Tchaikovsky’s music.

Serenade: Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Joffrey Artists Gayeon Jung and Stefan Goncalvez, Photo: Cheryl Mann

Joffrey has not performed this work previously, but this performance was perfection. First performed in 1934, it is a milestone in the history of dance, being the first original ballet that Balanchine created in America.  I found this piece comforting and uplifting.

Serenade_Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, The Joffrey Ballet ensemble, Photo: Cheryl Mann

After intermission the audience was offered the first look at Choreographer, Cathy Marston’s, adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men set to an original score by Academy Award®-nominated composer Thomas Newman.  This work contrasts sharply in story line and tone to Serenade.  Although this is new, the original story dates back to 1937 when the book was first published. The story of “just plain folk” looking for a better life has many twists and turns. 

“In 2019, the Joffrey and Cathy Marston were awarded the Prince Prize for Commissioning Original Work, an honor and vote of confidence in both Cathy’s artistry as a choreographer and the Joffrey’s artistic vision under The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. The Prince Prize provided the seed money to bring the brilliant Of Mice and Men creative team together to begin work on what you will see today. “

Joffrey Artists Alberto Velazquez, Xavier Núñez, Dylan Gutierrez, Photo: Cheryl Mann

Note: Steinbeck chronicled the struggles and dreams of working Americans. His setting was the vast California landscape during the hard-scrabble Depression. His protagonists, two itinerant farm workers, George Milton and Lennie Small.

“George’s voice becomes deeper…’Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place…

’Lennie broke in. ‘But not us! An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you…’

‘Someday we’re gonna have a little house and a couple acres an’ a cow and some pigs…’

‘An’ live off the fatta the lan.’”

While Marston’s work is generally known for narrative ballet, with women as lead characters,[6]  Marston said it was not intentional.[7] (In 2016, Marston’s Jane Eyre, base on the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë debuted at Northern Ballet. It was praised by the British critic. The production toured in the UK, and a revival of an enlarged version performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.[8][9] In 2019, the production was danced by the American Ballet Theatre, with Devon TeuscherIsabella Boylston and Misty Copeland dancing the title role.[4] On the same year, Joffrey Ballet in Chicago also danced Jane Eyre.[10])   )

Joffrey Artists Amanda Assucena, Dylan Gutierrez, Photo: Cheryl Mann

Of Mice and Men brings a strong male cast with only three females.  The sets, costumes, music and staging bring the words of the story of struggle to life in movement. The complexity of the story makes it challenging to convey.  There is an elegance in the execution and athleticism of the work.  It is dramatic and powerful.  Speaking with viewers who knew the story of Lenny and George and those who didn’t the dance is a very different experience.  The staging, movements, costuming and music were there to be enjoyed by all, but the story was not transparent.  For those who knew the story, the words shouted through the distinctive movements.

On another note, having lived in Newcastle, England at one time, I was intrigued to learn that “Cathy Marston was born in Newcastle in 1975.[1] Both of her parents were English teachers. She studied at The Royal Ballet School between 1992 and 1994.[2]  “ Marston will become the ballet director and chief choreographer of Ballett Zürich in 2023.

Tickets and Schedule

The Joffrey Ballet performs its spring program Wednesday, April 27 – Sunday, May 8, 2022. The full performance schedule is as follows: Wednesday, April 27 at 7:30 pm; Friday, April 29 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, April 30 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm; Sunday, May 1 at 2:00 pm; Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 pm; Friday, May 6 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 7 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, May 8 at 2:00 pm.

Single tickets, priced from $35 to $199, are available for purchase at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, or online at joffrey.org.

About The Joffrey Ballet­­

The Joffrey Ballet is one of the premier dance companies in the world today, with a reputation for boundary-breaking performances for more than 60 years. The Joffrey repertoire is an extensive collection of all-time classics, modern masterpieces, and original works.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit joffrey.org. Connect with the Joffrey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


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