Review: Joffrey Ballet and Luck of the Irish

BY GRACE HAERR | MARCH 12, 2015 5:00 AM

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This weekend I acted as a fly on the wall during Joffrey Ballet’s dress rehearsal and a guest in a home of ambiguous ownership for the play Luck of the Irish.

Joffrey Ballet’s final run-through before its first performance in Space/Place March 7 was steaming. 

The temperature of Space/Place must be kept between 70 and 80 degrees so the dancers’ muscles stay warm. While this may aid in injury prevention, it certainly did not prevent any perspiration.

The men and women on stage glistened. I could hear them panting for oxygen and see their rib cages expanding and contracting in unison. 

One of the men lifted up one of the women as if she weighed no more than the clothes she wore. Together they spun delicately with their bodies intertwined. 

It was seemingly effortless — if there was ever a question in my mind on whether dancers were athletes, it was swept away by the remarkable flexibility and strength displayed in that very moment.

Artistic Director of Joffrey Ashley Wheater laughed at my impressed comments following the run-through. “They[the dancers] were taking it easy,” he said.

It took nearly two hours to coordinate each slight movement the dancers made with the timing of the music and the direction of the lighting. None of it looked easy to me.

An old photography axiom holds true for the art of theater, as Joffrey proved: Lighting is everything. Back splashes on the stage enhanced the mood, glowing red during the fourth movement, which included the music of Johnny Cash — accentuating the pain exhibited by the dancers during the song “Hurt” — and green light shown for the classical pieces.

A spotlight acted like a bubble for the dancers to perform in. Exiting this bubble of light, dancers disappeared into the darkness. 

If the dancers can conduct a near flawless dress rehearsal in the somewhat oppressive Space/Place, I can’t wait to catch them at the new Hancher, now nearing completion. I think I may faint.

The story of Luck of the Irish was a little more self-evident, if not quite as powerful. The play begins in a traditionally white neighborhood 1950s Boston, in which an affluent black family wishes to move. In order to secure their dream home, they have a white Irish family “ghost sign” the lease — an arrangement that proves more complicated than they would have thought generations later.

The actors in Luck of the Irish performed on an oversized Lazy Susan that rotated in the center of the stage in Thayer Theater.   Audience members were seated in four sections surrounding the moving stage, allowing them to view the actors in every angle of light throughout the show.

Set in Boston, the men and women did justice to the East Coast slang/accent.

It is the agenda of people wishing to embrace themselves in the story of Luck of the Irish to answer the question: Does this charming Boston home belong to the Taylors or the Donovans? I overwhelmingly sided with the Taylors, but you can decide for yourself; performances continue at 8 p.m. today through Saturday  in the Thayer Theater.

As for the beautiful Joffrey dancers, you will have to wait for their next Iowa City visit or else track them down on their current national tour. I would recommend catching their annual Nutcracker ballet in Chicago in December — it would be a good chance to reminisce if you were alive and lucky enough to catch the ballet’s world première in Iowa City in 1987.

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