Blue hues and moves: A vibrant journey through ‘Studies in Blue’ by The Joffrey Ballet


The Lyric Opera House lit up with excitement last Thursday, February 15th, as the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago premiered “Studies in Blue,” a collection of three energetic works that test the limits of classical ballet and reflect the shared human experiences of loss, love, friendship and sense of place.

The performance includes the highly anticipated return of audience favorite “Yonder Blue” by Andrew McNicol, which explores the shifting, dreamlike horizon of the “yonder.” Following this, audiences will witness the world premiere of “Hungry Ghosts” by Stina Quagebeur, a somber piece that delves into the struggles of addiction and the desire for connection amidst chaos. Closing the program is the Joffery premiere of Liam Scarlett’s emotionally charged “Hummingbird,” a playful piece that challenges classical movement and explores the true potential of movement and space.

“Yonder Blue” is a piece inspired by the conceptual exploration of ‘yonder’ presented within Siri Huistvedt’s book “A Plea for Eros.” Huistvedt describes the notion of ‘yonder’ as not merely a physical locale, but rather a fluid concept wavering within the realms of human imagination, located “between here and there.” Depicted as a fluid state existing between the present and the distant, it evokes a palpable yet intangible sense of separation, a distance that forever recedes into an imaginary horizon.

British choreographer Andrew McNicol taps into this tension and the human disposition for imagination within his dynamic piece. Dispelling any tangible sense of stability, McNicol utilizes movements that exist within a constant state of change.


Anais Bueno and The Joffrey Ballet Ensemble in "Hungry Ghosts"; Photo by Cheryl Mann

In mesmerizing harmony, pairs of dancers duck and weave through the main corps creating a tapestry of whirling of arms and bodies that blossom into a kaleidoscope of blues before the audience’s eyes. Each lift and descent is executed with unwavering support and grace, and the ensemble conjures a dreamy image of swirling lines that melt seamlessly into a unified and enchanting spectacle. The piece is complimented by Peter Gregson’s surreal melodies as the dancers move in synchronized chaos, crafting a harmonious and bewitching performance.

The second piece, choreographed by Belgian choreographer Stina Quagebeur, “Hungry Ghosts,” reflects the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic and sheds light on the profound suffering endured by all affected. Throughout this poignant performance, Quagebeur delves into this complex issue, suggesting that the perceived distance between ourselves and those grappling with addiction may not be as large as it seems.

Set to the beautifully haunting composition of Jeremy Birchall, the piece focuses on a couple, portrayed beautifully by company dancers Anais Bueno and Hyuma Kiyosawa, grappling with the challenges of maintaining their connection as one succumbs to the overwhelming allure of drugs. The duo, garbed in blue, is initially shown playfully, with joyful lifts and smiles for only each other.  However, Anais Bueno is slowly drawn into the alluring movement of the corps de ballet, whose white outfits and shadowy figures represent opioids. Being swept away from her partner, she succumbs to the slow, powerful dips and lifts offered by the main crops. Engulfed by the embrace of addiction, she becomes a shell of her former self. Movements that were once joyful and familiar became devoid of emotion and veiled in darkness. Hyuma Kiyosawa’s attempts to reach out are met with hesitant resistance; she avoids his gaze, weakened and trapped in a cycle of wanting to reconnect to her former self but is repeatedly pulled back into the uniformed mass of white.


The Joffrey Ballet Ensemble in "Yonder Blue"; Photo by Cheryl Mann

The closing act, “Hummingbird” by English choreographer Liam Scarlett, provides a moment of relief for the audience through its cheerful exploration of movement and space. Set to the evocative music of Philip Glass, the dancers glide in and across the stage in a cheeky manner, playfully flirting with the music, the movement, and the audience themselves. The dancers slide, run, and leap through the space, utilizing a ramp located at the rear of the stage, keeping the audience guessing and eagerly anticipating the next burst of energy. The ramp serves as a captivating visual spectacle, as the dancers craft dynamic, multi-leveled arrangements, and offers a unique space for movement innovation

“Studies in Blue” culminated in a marvelous showcase of both artistry and physical strength. The entire ensemble of the Joffrey Ballet deserves recognition for their dedication to their craft. Beyond their remarkable strength and technique, the emotional depth infused into every performance created a truly captivating experience. With each piece sharing a deep regard for the human condition, including all its struggles and triumphs, the overall journey of the performance evokes a deeply emotional response.

The Joffrey Ballet’s “Studies in Blue” runs February 15-25 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start as low as $26 and can be found by clicking on the event listing below or visiting