Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland Orchestra make graceful partners

August 22, 2011
The Plain Dealer
Mark Satola

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The Joffrey Ballet's third collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra over the weekend at Blossom Music Center presented five contemporary dances, set to music that stands outside the orchestra's usual repertoire, making for a doubly satisfying evening.

Conductor Tito Munoz was in the pit for the proceedings. Munoz, currently music director of the Lorraine National Opera and the Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy, was assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 2007 to 2010.

Although a labor dispute earlier this summer threatened to derail the performances, cooler heads prevailed, and the Chicago-based Joffrey took the stage Saturday and Sunday nights at Blossom, with the Cleveland Orchestra out of sight but not out of hearing, just below the front of the stage.

The program opened with "Night," choreographed by Julia Adam, to a commissioned score by Matthew Pierce, and with costumes (by the composer's brother, Benjamin) provided by the San Francisco Ballet, which gave the work its premiere in 2000.

Anastacia Holden danced the role of the Small Woman, a dreamer whose nocturnal adventures are overseen by the Tall Man, danced by Dylan Gutierrez. At times alert and focused, at other times limp and seemingly asleep, Holden delineated the strange logic of dreaming in a narrative whose meaning lay beyond the understanding of waking thought.

Her nocturnal companions were alternately playful, kind and threatening, in costumes that suggested a connection with the animal world -- the six men wore trousers decorated with ruffles that looked like shaggy flanks, and the three women, who made their entrance loosely bound together by a dark translucent veil, wore skirts that were similarly embellished.

A short excerpt from Lar Lubovitch's three-act ballet "Othello," to brooding music by Elliot Goldenthal, served as a tantalizing preview; a full performance with the Cleveland Orchestra has been suggested as a possible feature for a future collaboration. Fabrice Calmels captured the passion and anguish of Shakespeare's tortured hero in Lubovitch's graphic portrayal of Desdemona's strangulation.

Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain" was less successful. Estonian composer Arvo Part's ominous "Tabula Rasa," for two violins, prepared piano and strings, overshadowed Wheeldon's mirror dances for three couples. And the sensual and intimate pas de deux, to the violin-and-piano duet "Spiegel im Spiegel," seemed out of place with Part's chaste music.

Two dances by George Balanchine rounded out the evening, the "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" and the 1970 version of "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," which Balanchine originally choreographed in 1941. The "Pas de Deux" (1960) was a pleasant divertissement, with Balanchine's streamlined take on classical ballet's vocabulary providing a showcase for the lyric grace of April Daly and the impressive athleticism of Gutierrez.

Cleveland Orchestra associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee was outstanding as the soloist in Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D major. Balanchine's understanding of Stravinsky's playful and emotionally complex score resulted in a finale that was delightfully contrapuntal and, in the two pas de deux, profoundly moving.