The Joffrey Ballet Celebrates a New Generation with Game Changers

Year of the Rabbit: Amanda Assucena & Alberto Velazque Photo by Cheryl Mann
Year of the Rabbit: Amanda Assucena & Alberto Velazque Photo by Cheryl Mann

This winter, The Joffrey Ballet turns its focus to current choreographers making their mark on the ballet world with Game Changers, which continues through February 26.

Game Changers features the Chicago premiere of Year of the Rabbit by Justin Peck and two audience favorites: Christopher Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise and Wayne McGregor’s INFRA.

“These three people have made a massive contribution to the changing landscape of classical ballet,” said Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. “The three pieces are so clearly different, and yet they are three people, as well as the composers, that are really working today in their own voice.”

Joffrey’s winter program typically takes a more contemporary spin, and this year is no exception.

Peck worked on Year of the Rabbit in collaboration with musician Sufjan Stevens, setting his choreography to an orchestrated version of Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit. Wheater said that while Peck was born in the year of the rabbit, so was ballet’s beloved George Balanchine, and the title of the piece is Peck’s subtle nod to the ballet great. Peck performs as a soloist in the New York City Ballet, where he is also the resident choreographer.

“I find that he brings so much color to the music,” Wheater said. “For this generation, he is like Jerome Robbins. He has that great American jazzy sensibility.”

INFRA first graced the U.S. stage when performed by The Joffrey Ballet in 2012. The thought-provoking work explores human interaction in the wake of the 2005 London subway bombings, expressing both shock and sadness.

“I think Wayne [McGregor] is probably the most far out there,” Wheater said. “He really is a revelation for the dance world.”

In 2015, Joffrey audiences got their first glimpse of Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise, an abstract ballet performed by nine company members, which returns this year for “Game Changers.”

Fool’s Paradise is simply that we’re awash in this beautiful, thoughtful work that has a romance to it,” Wheater said. “The movement and the music are so synergized.”

While Game Changers is a more athletic program, it maintains ballet’s soul-nurturing artistry. Wheater said that the variety of pieces lend themselves to different viewing experiences, and audiences should allow the pieces to come to them, but not be afraid to lean in a bit.

“I hope that [the audience] finds beauty, thought, and joy in the program,” Wheater said. “There’s always a new generation, and we need to give the generation the platform that past masters had.”

“Game Changers” runs February 15-February 26. Tickets are $34-$159 and can be purchased by calling 312-386-8905, visiting, or visiting the Joffrey Ballet box office at 10 E. Randolph St. or the Auditorium Theatre.

Miriam Finder Annenberg
Miriam Finder Annenberg