It's only natural, when you have a good experience, to want to repeat
it. Hence the reappearance this weekend at Blossom Music Center of
Chicago's Joffrey Ballet.
After last year's mutually rewarding collaboration with the
Cleveland Orchestra, the two companies were only too eager get new dates
on the calendar. Now here they are again, about to present two more
evenings of dance with live music.
"To have an experience like that was really exceptional," said
Ashley Wheater, Joffrey's artistic director. "This was two organizations
truly working together. If we had a big enough stage to be on it
together, we would."
Actually, it's a good thing the stage isn't that big. One of the
glories of the event is hearing the orchestra in the pit, in an
acoustically favorable space beneath the stage designed for just this
sort of performance.
Until last year, the space had been sitting unused since 1984, when
the orchestra halted its tradition of accompanying ballet at Blossom. In
the meantime, the musicians lost out on the versatility and flexibility
that come from working with dancers.
"To be able to do this affects everything else they do," said outgoing assistant
conductor Tito Muñoz, who led last year's performances and will conduct
again Saturday and Sunday. "It makes them a complete orchestra. After
this, they can be totally fearless."
For the dancers, long used to following taped music, the experience
of partnering with a full-time, world-class orchestra is as enriching as
it is a lavish spectacle for the audience.
"When you have such an exceptional orchestra, to just immerse
yourself in the music, it does transform you as an artist," Wheater
said. "They learn how to listen and respond to what they're hearing."
Sharp ears will come in especially handy this weekend. Not only is
the dance program demanding but the musical slate is large, diverse and
The centerpiece is "Pretty Ballet," a substantial new piece by
choreographer James Kudelka set to Martinu's Symphony No. 2, a score
commissioned and premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra. Concluding the
night will be another recent work, "Age of Innocence," a 2008 piece
choreographed by Edwaard Liang and employing music by Philip Glass and
Newman's score to the 2006 film "Little Children."
Principal cellist Mark Kosower will be featured in Joffrey
co-founder Gerald Arpino's "Reflections," based on Tchaikovsky's
"Variations on a Rococo Theme," while principal keyboard Joela Jones
takes the musical lead in Balanchine's "Tarantella," set to Gottschalk's
"Grande Tarantelle" for piano and orchestra.
"When you only have a few performances, you really want to show the
depth of your company," Wheater said. "It's about putting something on
the program for everyone."
In addition to an artistic education, both institutions gained
insight last year on the practical aspects of presenting ballet at
Blossom. This year, for instance, they bumped back the start time half
an hour, to ward off sun glare. Similarly, lighting will focus on the
center of the stage rather than the reflective sides.
But these are minor issues. Nothing so trivial obscures the fact
that audiences in Northeast Ohio and the companies themselves are
energized by the collaboration and its prospects.
"We're right here in the Midwest, and coming to Cleveland fits in
with our mission," Wheater said. "We would love this relationship to
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