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Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’ is terrific and terrifying

The Joffrey Ballet’s “Frankenstein” has everything you want for spooky season: a gothic setting, sci-fi wizardry, a dash of hedonism, death and destruction and breathtaking shock value. When you factor in Joffrey’s incredible dancers, world-renowned design team and master choreographer Liam Scarlett, it’s not hard to see why missing “Frankenstein” during its two weekend performances at the Lyric Opera House wasn’t an option.

To be clear, this “Frankenstein” is not the family-friendly, green-faced monster of pop culture’s “Monster Mash” story. Scarlett’s approach is more in line with Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel; A supremely terrifying tale with shades of the Greek god Prometheus and Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”

The story focuses on three characters: Victor Frankenstein (danced by José Pablo Castro Cuevas on Thursday), Elizabeth (Amanda Assucena), and the Creature (Jonathan Dole). Cuevas and Assucena effortlessly capture the emotional arcs of their characters and the demands of Scarlett’s unapologetically generous choreography; It is seen most in the first and third acts. pas de deux. They begin as naive young lovers whose lives become horrifyingly cruel. They are struck by tragedy for the first time when Frankenstein’s mother dies while giving birth to her second son, William. The eldest son sets off to go to university, leaving his promised bride behind.

Even then this cheerful flirtation is still hopeful. Scarlett’s take on Lowell Liebermann’s bombastic original score has Assucena and Cuevas traversing the entire stage with reckless abandon. Look closely. Cuevas shows off his cards as a formidable partner and commanding soloist with more overhead lifts and toe spins than you can count, while also managing the heavy psychology of a brilliant young scientist who produces a man, then has to live with the consequences of playing in God’s sandbox. . Assucena remains the more optimistic of the pair, and the pair’s worrying emotional dissonance is partly why she and Cuevas get so drunk together.

Dole spends much of the ballet lying on a slab in a Gothic operating room, or later crouching behind leafless trees in Frankenstein’s Swiss chalet, spying on his creator. His looming presence is a mockery and only part of what makes “Frankenstein” so tantalizingly exciting.

At college, Frankenstein and his best friend Henry (Xavier Núñez), bullied by a group of boisterous, cocky classmates, learn anatomy and cadaver dissection. While less serious academics make friends with a few lethargic prostitutes at the bar, Cuevas heads to the laboratory on his own and, using a series of steampunk gadgets, delivers an electric current to Dole’s lifeless body, bringing a pile of flesh to life. .

The stage is ballet at its finest, where some of the world’s best performers come together to create mind-blowing theatrical magic. Troy Fujimura (projections), Gateway Pyrotechnic Productions, David Finn (lighting), John Macfarlane (props and costumes), Liebermann (performed by musical director Scott Speck and engagingly by the Lyric Opera Orchestra) and, of course, Scarlett are excellent He created a container. Then it’s up to the dancers to do this. And they did it. That’s what audiences must have felt when they first saw Marie Taglioni rise on tiptoe like a sylph and fly above the stage on invisible guide wires: full of wonder. Fascinating.

José Pablo Castro Cuevas at Joffrey Ballet "Frankenstein" at the Lyric Opera House.

And as the Creature, Dole gives the performance of his life so far. In just four seasons, she is now emerging as a dancer to watch; grappling with all the complexity of a nameless loser conflicted with his inexplicable, insatiable need to create chaos – not to mention some truly hardcore dancing. The creature is tormented by an uncontrollable urge to inflict physical pain. But it is more cooperative in imposing psychological trauma, a nuance that Dole deftly explains. This is perhaps most evident in a spectacular ballroom scene in which the Creature weaves among and between dazzling waltzing couples. He disappears, then reappears again and again, each time with a grin on his torn lips, and then destroys Frankenstein’s family.

Dole, Cuevas and Assucena are just some of the exciting performances offered in “Frankenstein”; among them is Jeraldine Mendoza as Justine, the roommate wrongly accused of murdering William, danced wonderfully by the young Sheppard Littrell. As always, look out for outstanding character roles from Christine Rocas and Miguel Angel Blanco, who return after leaving the company last season. And there’s a terrific, complex ensemble effort at the top.

Spoiler: Everyone dies. Plot: The manner and order in which most of these characters take their last breaths have been changed from the original.

Mary Shelley ensures that Victor Frankenstein dies of disease while trying to kill the Creature, hoping to save others from suffering the fate of her family. In her last rites, she implores those around her to continue this mission.

Shelley’s Frankenstein says: “I created a rational creature and was bound to ensure its happiness and well-being to the best of my power.” “In order not to make others miserable, he must die miserable himself. “The task of destroying it was mine, but I failed.”

Here Frankenstein makes a mess and is unable to try to clean it up because he is overcome by pain. Scarlett’s Frankenstein kills himself with a gun, and the Creature is forced to mourn his creator and walk into a towering wall of fire.

It is people’s behavior that deprives this poor man of his most basic needs, compassion and companionship. Scarlett does not make it clear that Frankenstein chooses to reject the Creature as a partner when given the chance to spare his family. Frankenstein creates a monster not with his hands, but with his actions.

Shelley’s Creature says: “Am I the only one to blame when all humanity sins against me?”

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Scarlett’s “Frankenstein” doesn’t have to be Shelley’s. However, the novel features a mad scientist who admits his mistake, while the ballet ends him, believing that his own Creature is nothing but a monster.

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.

Review: Joffrey Ballet’s “Frankenstein” (3.5 stars)

When: Until October 22

Where: Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive

Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes, 2 intermissions

Tickets: $36-$205 at 312-386-8905 and joffrey.org

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