Passions raging beneath the surface are brought to life in
Edwaard Liang's sumptuous Age of Innocence, the most captivating part of
the Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland Orchestra program at Blossom Music Center last
The ballet company, which collaborated with the Cleveland
Orchestra last year for the first time in 30 years, returned this year with an
even more intense program, led by Liang's 2008 commission. Liang's inspiration
was the 19th-century ballroom of Jane Austen's heroines, where the mere touch of
a hand ignited passion, love, longing and frustration.
His dance begins with men on one side, women on the other in
courtly fashion, framed by a huge red velvet curtain backdrop. The bowing and
curtsying shifts to a much more modern style with full body contact in First
Dialogue, a duet between Christine Rocas and Mauro Villanueva. This dance is
so full of longing, Rocas wraps herself around Villanueva's waist in fetal
The racing urgency of the Philip Glass music made one think
of these young people's pounding hearts.
In an age when women were not free to choose their spouses,
Liang speaks to the rage young women felt when they were promised to one person
but loved another. That's most apparent in the stunning Obey Thee duet
between Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels.
One gets the feeling in this tension-filled duet that Jaiani
is a reluctant partner. Calmels takes charge repeatedly, grabbing her ankle
while she's in a deep arabesque and boldly flipping her onto his back. The
extremely tall Calmels is the heroic dancer of the show, both in Age of
Innocence and in the closing Pretty BALLET.
A male quartet speaks to the men's frustration as they engage
in open competition, ending in a pose that looks like one pair is about to
strike the heads of the other. But decorum reigns in the end, as the ballet
returns full circle to the ballroom.
In contrast, Gerald Arpino's Reflections, which opens
the program, is restrained in its emotion. The vintage Arpino piece, performed
in tribute to the Joffrey Ballet's late co-founder, is pure ballet set to
Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. High points were the tender
partnering between Christine Rocas and Miguel Blanco in Variation VI, as
well as the rich cello solo by esteemed newcomer Mark Kosower, who made his
instrument sound like a living, breathing organism.
Providing further contrast was the tambourine-playing humor
in the Tarantella pas de deux, a joyful piece full of ethnic Neapolitan
flair, choreographed by Balanchine. Here, the handsome Derrick Agnoletti is a
big ham with a huge smile.
As extraordinarily talented as these dancers are, at times
they showed that they were human. Saturday night, Blanco appeared to lose his
balance landing from an aerial turn in the classical Le Corsaire pas de
deux. And one dancer in the female corps de ballet fell and jumped back up in a
flurry of long white tulle skirts in Pretty BALLET.
The art of dance itself is elevated in Pretty BALLET,
a piece by James Kudelka that the Joffrey Ballet premiered in April. It begins
with Calmels holding the rigid Valerie Robin, the ballet muse, high above his
head. She lies in frozen horizontal position with her arms bent straight up at
the elbows and her long skirt cascading over Calmels' face.
The huge ballet of 24 dancers, set to the music of Bohuslav
Martinu, was created to represent the balancing of romantic art against hard,
industrial ideas. It's not clear that Calmels is supposed to represent harsh
industrialism. But we see that he is trying to protect his muse, especially when
their flawless pas de deux appears to come under assault by the entrance of
other dancers. Robin goes back to her rigid state and Calmels continues to try
to dance with her in an effort to revive her.
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