Another glorious evening of dance and live music by Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland Orchestra

September 6, 2010
The Plain Dealer
Zachary Lewis

Content

The Cleveland Orchestra isn’t accustomed to working with dancers, and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet doesn’t often perform with musicians. Put the two companies together, however, and it’s like they’ve been partnering for ages. 

 

In a spectacular example of art’s power to bridge gaps, the orchestra and ballet shared the stage at Blossom Music Center last weekend, underscoring again the link between sound and movement in a lavish evening of dance led by assistant conductor Tito Munoz. If the two groups weren’t deeply in synch, one couldn’t tell from the many natural, responsive performances all around.

No matter that the weather was chilly. On Saturday, most patrons simply gravitated to the pavilion, huddling around the warmly-lit stage like a campfire. A second performance of the same program took place Sunday.

Most enjoyable was “Age of Innocence,” a newish creation by choreographer Edwaard Liang based on music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman. At 30 minutes, it was also the most substantial work, portraying the triumph of feeling over 19th-century social conventions.

Liang’s angular choreography suited the looping, minimalist music perfectly. Both the opening, a formal line dance, and a daring sequence for four men derived their singular power from straight limbs mimicking pointed rhythms and syncopated patterns.

But there was also tenderness. In romantic interludes, two couples defied gravity while conveying smoldering emotion, and the final scene, “Parting,” concluded unforgettably with the cast strolling off stage to Newman’s spare, ethereal music.

Nearly as long but much less compelling was James Kudelka’s “Pretty Ballet,” a new setting of Martinu’s Symphony No. 2, a piece coincidentally premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra. Where Liang’s ballet exemplified pent-up feeling, Kudelka’s seemed simply sterile, a mechanical visualization of an undistinguished score.

Yet the tension between romantic and industrial ideals came across in virtuoso performances juxtaposing bubbly, intricate footwork and slower, more rigid figurations. Particularly effective was Movement II, an impassioned but highly controlled exchange between Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels.

Pure technical wizardry was the object in the Pas de Deux from Petipa’s “Le Corsaire.” After a refined duet, Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Angel Blanco took turns dazzling with endless pirouettes and wide, high leaps.

Munoz and the orchestra, fresh off a European tour, were attentive partners throughout, but nowhere were their contributions more noticeable than in two works with prominent musical roles.

In his first solo since becoming principal cello, Mark Kosower took the instrumental lead in “Reflections,” a classical setting of Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” by Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino.

Transcending the work’s challenges, the cellist established a dynamic line of communication with the dancers, lending their stunning performances additional degrees of suppleness and immediacy. Athletic maneuvers appeared even more highly physical, while interaction in duets seemed more intimate and smoothly lyrical.

Principal keyboardist Joela Jones had a similar effect on Balanchine’s “Tarantella.” Like a steady current of electricity, her performance of Gottschalk’s “Grande Tarantelle” enlivened the sharp, frolicsome dancing Saturday by Yumelia Garcia and Derrick Agnoletti.

How far these two companies will pursue their relationship remains to be seen. Certainly, they’ve got the chemistry to go long. One way or another, though, Saturday’s performances proved beyond doubt that ballet deserves a permanent slot on the orchestra’s dance card.