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The Joffrey Ballet brings ‘American Legends’ to Motown

The Joffrey Ballet returned to the Detroit Opera House Saturday night with its electrifying “American Legends” production. If you missed it, you can still catch the second performance this afternoon, Sunday, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. If you caught the Joffrey Ballet the last time they were in Detroit, in 2011, you know that this is dance at its most dramatic.

The Joffrey Ballet's Derrick Agnoletti dances in Stanton Welch's Son of Chamber Symphony  as part of the American Legends program at Detroit Opera House.
Photo by Christopher Duggan

Based in Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet has become one of the most revered and recognizable arts organizations in America and one of the top dance companies in the world. This “American Legends” program is a salute to master choreographers Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Stanton Welch. The program opens with Interplay, a playful mix of classical ballet steps and contemporary spirit, choreographed by well-known Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins and set to Morton Gould's "American Concertette."

Also featured is Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs, a popular classic that celebrates and updates 1950's social dance, with music by Frank Sinatra and costumes by Oscar De La Renta, both icons of their art forms.

The performance concludes with the Michigan premiere of Stanton Welch's Sons of Chamber Symphony, set to music by John Adams. Welch says that Adams' deconstruction of music inspired him to deconstruct standard ballet traditions, "so much of ballet is about hiding the difficulties and seeking to attain seamless movement. Here I want to show the seams."

Hailed as "America's Company of Firsts," the Joffrey Ballet is the first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television, the first American company to visit Russia, the first to commission a rock-and-roll ballet, the first and only dance company to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and the first company to be the center of a major motion picture (Robert Altman's “The Company”).

While for most of us who enjoy ballet but don’t live and breathe in that world, it’s the names of legendary choreographers and composers that we recognize. But witnessing any production that features the Joffrey Ballet makes it clear that it is all about the dancers. This company is classically trained to the excruciating standards that the Joffrey Ballet is known for. As a group, they present an inclusive perspective on dance, deliberately reflecting the diversity of America within its company, outreach and repertoire.

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, this company regularly performs a distinctive mix of story ballets, reimagined masterpieces, and contemporary works. The company’s work under celebrated choreographer and co-founder Gerald Arpino, from 1988 until 2007, is the stuff of legend. And today the company thrives under the vision of internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.

If you can make it downtown this afternoon, make the effort! Ticket prices range from $25 to $80, and can be purchased in person at the Detroit Opera House ticket office (1526 Broadway, Detroit), by calling 313-237-SING, online, or through any Ticketmaster outlet.