With a generous virtual premiere available to online goers for nearly one week July 15-25th, Ballet 5:8’s “Four Seasons of the Soul” opened us to a world ripe with change.
Punchy lime green tutus billowing across the stage opened the performance with undeniable technique. A heartbeat set the rhythmic foundation as I dreamed of grasshoppers, new foliage and even random ticks. Breathable bourées almost took me out, as I just couldn’t get past how much I am really into lime green. We’ve seen so much chartreuse this season, I was certain the piece was made recently, but after an interview with Artistic Director Julianna Slager, I was informed that “Four Seasons for the Soul” was a revival from 2014, finding relevance and reawakening in this very special moment in time.
With a namesake rooted in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Slager reminds us that the company’s name derives from this scripture and is the basis of Ballet 5:8. “God reaches out to us and that is what we want to do with our ballets, reach out to others.”
“Four Seasons of the Soul” was heavily inspired by another Bible verse, Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the sun.”
A natural blend of both prose and poetry, “Four Seasons of the Soul” illustrates the electric beauty of change, whether the shift was from hue to hue, duet to solo, quick to slow or staccato to legato styles. Shifts were frequent, but they were rarely jolting. Gorgeous pique turns in the lime green section resemble ecosystems of little insects, with the piece concluding in a beautiful cluster. Although endings with group poses are not something I see often in concert dance, it felt like a familiar gesture and it worked for me. It also affirmed Ballet 5:8’s mission of being accessible and close to their communities.
We shifted into a graceful male — female duet in the second number, while also easing into a striking piece that featured dancers in yellow wired nylon tutus created by costume designer Lorianne Robertson. I felt like I was looking at portraits of ballerinas, moving at the speed of light leaving behind flashes and the faith of mustard seeds. Permanent cylinder shapes in the costumes introduced unusual elements to traditional balletic movements. It kept me curious, questioning the experimentation of the summer season, reveling in the high buoyancy of life but also a little agitated by the inflexibility of the costume. It brought me back to the place where many of us are stemming from, especially with the costumes seeming to remind us of the rigidity of the earlier days of the pandemic in the Summer of 2020.
In the third piece, what came to mind is the crimson red wardrobe and the perfect technique which was expressed with leaps and bounds. There was also a piercing silent moment where the dancers circled around a duet. In that moment, our soul was able to breathe. The deafening silence was followed by the sound of a recurring heartbeat which, as Slager mentioned, “Brought us back to the grounding in ourselves.” It was so easy, as it is in life, to be swept away, but bringing it home to our heartbeat is always a reminder that we have the power to set our own day-to-day pulse.
“Fall reminds us of human existence, which is to take a step back but also to take a step forward,” said Slager. The red scene which reflected the autumn months of decay, gave us a sense of ease as we merged into the winter. The mood was a bit somber and almost gave a holiday chorus kind of feel as the dancers carried the liquid energy of holiday sorrel through to their fingertips. The culminating group poses were reminiscent of Kanye West’s balletic music video, “Runaway,” with energetic group clumps that created a peak of their own.
“Winter is so vibrant in Chicago and in one way it is a death but in another way it is a tunnel that brings us back to Spring.” The final piece, which mimicked Chicago’s most notorious season in terms of weather, gave a sweeter fragrance to Chicago Winters. Ballerinas dawned in lavender graced the stage with sharp arm movements that accentuate the staccato orchestration of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Oscillating circles revolve around a solo dancer, and the name Ballet 5:8 almost had you question if the 5:8 stood for some kind of rhythm combination, as they seem to have quite a play on tempo, especially in the final scene.
“Four Seasons of the Soul” mirrors the change of tempo in life, whether we are navigating a pandemic, or dancing through new seasons. Julianna reminds us that Chicago is one of the only places that gives us a full range of extreme seasons and for that constant experience we are blessed and perhaps better equipped for life's peaks and valleys because we are built to both last and adapt.
As Ballet 5:8 celebrates their 10 year anniversary, they have embraced their inevitable expansion, “One exciting milestone we have reached is we are now a resident company with the Harris Theatre Chicago. As we enter our 11th season, we hope to lean deeper into our mission as we will be widely accessible with several free shows in both August and September.”