isn't often that two of America's top performing arts organizations
meet. The Cleveland Orchestra, skillfully conducted by Tito Munez,
played host to Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, which rarely performs to live
music, over Labor Day weekend at the Blossom Music Center near Cuyahoga
In this summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, the schedule focuses
on classical and pop music, with the Joffrey the lone dance
presentation. But when you're going down that avenue, it's best to do it
right -- and they did with this company, often ranked as the third best
in the United States.
When you think about it, dance often shares a love of classical
music. This program featured composers such as Tchaikovsky, who
straddled both worlds so successfully; Philip Glass, who may be the
modern-day version of Tchaikovsky; and Bohuslav Martinu, whose surging
Symphony No 2. fit the bill as well.
So if an audience member wasn't particularly interested in the dance,
as was the case with one husband who sat near me, you could close your
eyes and listen. Which he did.
This is an area where there is no ballet. DANCECleveland regularly
sells out a season of contemporary dance, but the Ohio city has ceased
to bring in first-rate touring ballet groups such as the Kirov Ballet
and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. As for the home-grown product, the
Cleveland Ballet made a full transition to San Jose, Calif., in 2000,
and Ohio Ballet met its demise in 2006.
In a venue that seats more than 5,000, one could sense that this
audience was primarily made up of music aficionados. It also brought up a
cultural difference between the two art forms. Applause between
movements is discouraged at symphonic concerts, while clapping is
commonplace at the ballet, even to the extent of giving approval to
individual solos. But no one would have thought to applaud certain
technical passages by principal cellist and soloist Mark Kosower,
visible from the pit on a makeshift platform in Gerald Arpino's
"Reflections." Set to Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme," Mr.
Kosower was miked so as to enhance his elegant technique and received
his just due from the audience only at the end.
Mr. Arpino's buoyant lyricism helped to define the Joffrey, and it
was historically satisfying to use "Reflections" as the opening work on
the program. Filled with fluid torso movement atop spirited leaps and
dazzling turns, it was regrettably not connected to the music in any
way, particularly in the ensemble work, and seemed to get lost on the
large Blossom stage.
Of course, the Joffrey is noted for its American personality-plus.
But there is a transformation on the way, as was evidenced at Blossom,
under artistic director Ashley Wheater, who took over for Mr. Arpino in
2007. This season, nearly a quarter of the company will be new,
including Cuban dancer Miguel Angel Blanco, who played a prominent role
He partnered with the lithe Victoria Jaiani in "Le Corsaire" pas de
deux, another diversion from the usual Joffrey canon. Over the years,
the company has built its reputation on original historical
reconstructions (Vaslav Nijinsky's "The Rite of Spring," Frederick
Ashton's "Cinderella") and youth-oriented commissions, such as Twyla
Tharp's "Deuce Coupe," set to the Beach Boys, and the Prince trilogy.
That gave it a singular repertoire that artistically separated and
It seemed odd to see a pair of pas de deux that exist in the
repertoires of other groups. But it shows that Mr. Wheater is intent on
building a stronger classical base. The other duet was George
Balanchine's whirlwind "Tarantella" (with Cleveland pianist Joela Jones
providing the rippling solos). While Yumelia Garcia and Derrick
Agnoletti had the vivacity and technique to pull it off, the dancers
were too heavy-handed as the piece proceeded.
The other two ballets had epic proportions worthy of this venue. I
saw Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence" at Kennedy Center's "Ballet
Across America" in Washington, D.C., last June. This performance
reinforced his talent, particularly in creating movement for men. But
like other young choreographers, he put an overabundance of ideas into
his work and will have to learn to edit in the future.
Although it was inspired by Jane Austen, there were just a few
suggestions of her social world -- lacy cream-colored costumes, linear
movements to be found in a ballroom. The final duet with Ms. Jaiani and
Fabrice Calmels was still the emotional highlight, as if pent-up
passions were finally released.
Canadian choreographer James Kudelka's "Pretty BALLET" provided the
finale, and suitably so. It was easy to appreciate his cinematic
touches, reminiscent of Lar Lubovitch, as the men moved slowly at the
start and the women double-timed. But somehow his approach periodically
unfolded into beautiful lifts.
This is purportedly another in a series of ballets by Mr. Kudelka
that were inspired by the history of ballet, and it showed in brief
references to the film "Red Shoes" (the ballerina actually wore red
shoes here), "Giselle" and "Apollo."
He also juxtaposed it with industrial movements for the men. While
that might not make sense, it did give a new angle on the traditional
masculine and feminine ideals of the dance. But if you ignored all of
that, this was the most musical work of the night, as the women wafted
about in long tutus and the men looked like pistons. Until the end, that
is, when the luminous power of the music was reflected in the dance.
And given the lovely sylvan setting of Blossom Music Center, that was
the perfect goal -- for the dance to be lifted by the music, as if on a
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