Studies In Blue – A Joffrey Ballet Masterpiece

Hummingbird, Amanda Assucena, Alberto Velazquez, Photo by Cheryl Mann
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by Jennifer Lunz and Weston Gleffe

The Joffrey Ballet continues its 68th season with a captivating, mixed program with original work choreographed by Liam Scarlett and Andrew McNicol, and with a world premiere by Stina Quagebeur. Testing the limits of classical ballet with contemporary themes, scores and breathtaking set design, Studies in Blue features deeply moving works that showcase the range of the Company’s repertoire with choreography by the most creative artists in modern dance.


Studies in Blue runs at the historic Lyric Opera House, 20 North Upper Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago, in ten performances only, from February 15–25, 2024. Studies in Blue features live music performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet.


The program consists of a a wonderful assortment of performances, the varying theme of each of the three separate performances provided the audience with different music, fresh variety, feelings and embedded message.

We begin with Yonder Blue, by British choreographer Andrew McNicol, and score by Peter Gregson. McNicol creates a sense of vastness with minimalist costuming and unique lighting. The music of Yonder Blue is truly hypnotic, flowing and undulating. Following the musical theme, the movements of the ballet cast are slow and fluid. Starting off, all are spread evenly, filling the stage with coordinated movement. As the act progresses, the various members take turns clearing the stage, creating focus on the interaction of dancers; increasing vigor and shifting the mood to more sensual, airy impressions. The lighting themes of blue and white coincide with the atmosphere of the show, and give harmony to the various elements.

Yonder Blue

Yonder Blue is a mesmerizing and beautiful opener to Studies in Blue. Think of the piece as opening up the horizon of perspective and possibilities of your life. What is out there to see and discover? Inspired by Siri Hustvedt’s book, A Plea for Eros, the author describes the word “yonder” as a word that shifts and moves, implying distance between one place and another. The color blue is similar to this thought, as it is a color that contains several associations, such as honesty, melancholy and hopefulness.

Yonder Blue

The second act is a world premiere by Belgian choreographer Stina Quagebeur, called Hungry Ghosts, with music by Jeremy Birchall. Hungry Ghosts is an in-your-face and honest portrayal of the horrors of addiction, and the longing to feel connected amidst feeling lost and unhopeful in life. This haunting, yet meditating and realistic take on the Opioid epidemic, one of the most human tragedies of our present time, she describes the work as “the story that statistics can’t tell, and that words alone cannot do justice to.”

Hungry Ghosts

The dance begins as a playful and sweet interaction between the couple. However, the woman begins to be coaxed by “addiction,” and struggles with triumphing over it, as well as succumbing and sinking into its despair. It is very powerful and emotional.

Hungry Ghosts

As the act continues, the woman slowly loses herself to addiction, and appears to become more absent in interacting with her partner. Overcome by the enslavement of her fixation on drugs, she is drawn away from him increasingly frequently behind a semi-transparent screen and into a crowd of obscure beings. These beings, which are zombie-like, in movement, appear to represent her perceived experience while on drugs; lifted up, carried, then set back down abruptly, again and again. As the cycle continues, the couple appears to lose their connection as the insidious addiction hollows out her spirit. The melancholic music conveys the somber mood that is being played out on stage.

Hungry Ghosts

Studies in Blue concludes with the Joffrey premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird, a breathtaking expression of human emotion. Set to Philip Glass’s three-movement Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Scarlett articulates love and longing through the progression of three pas de deux. Surrounded by the striking artistry of John Macfarlane’s hand-painted stage design, Hummingbird invites audience members o embrace compassion, reminding us of what it feels like to be human.


Hummingbird is a lovely finale that balances out and completes the Studies in Blue trio. Throughout the number, dancers invite your mind, body and soul to interpret what human emotion and thoughts are. You develop your own, complex responses to what the dancers are conveying onstage. As they change their costumes from dark to light to gray, it feels as if you are diving into another dimension, swirling with colors in your thoughts, where time has no beginning and no end.


Hummingbird is beautiful, energetic and dynamic. You witness shifting stage elements, a sense of wonder and whimsy are imparted to the act. The back of the stage has a mobile, water-color streaked curtain and a slide of sorts, which allows performers to slide into view at a moment’s notice. This is a special, memorable aspect of the show. Outfit colors, of dark blue, grey or white create visual interest as well between the different performers.

Studies in Blue is a lovely feast for the eyes, ears, mind and soul. Come and challenge your impressions and perspectives of what ballet and dance actually are, and how they can take you on a magical journey into your own thoughts and emotions of life.

Photos: Cheryl Mann

Single tickets start at $36 and are available for purchase at Lyric Opera Box Office located at 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. and by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at the Joffrey website.


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