Review: Joffrey Ballet electrifying at Blossom

August 22, 2011
Kerry Clawson


Talk about a love-hate relationship.

The most haunting moments of the Joffrey Ballet’s performance with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Sunday night came with a mesmerizing duet from Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, based on the romantic tragedy. The magnificent Fabrice Calmels was thoroughly threatening as the enraged Moor, blinded by jealousy. As Desdemona, the girlish April Daly had a limp suppleness and looked completely malleable in the hands of Calmels, whose physique made him seem like a giant next to her.

Those who know the story knew what was coming, but the Joffrey dancers’ characterizations were so strong and the mood they created so electrifying, members of the audience were enveloped in the horror of this murder scene. Calmels’ face was rife with conflicting emotions as he alternated between laying Daly down with great tenderness and looking at her with murderous rage, at one point holding her head as if he wanted to crush her.

One of the most interesting things about this dance, premiered by American Ballet Theatre in 1997, is that Desdemona never fights Othello or resists him. Despite all the tension, she appears to trust her husband 100 percent, and dancer Daly must trust her partner fully to pull off this horror. The moment of truth comes when Othello twists a wedding handkerchief around the falsely accused Desdemona’s neck and creates the illusion of pulling her body up, with the handkerchief serving as a noose.

This short duet, excerpted from Lubovitch’s three-act dance, was so masterful, it left me eager to see more.

Performing Saturday and Sunday in its third straight year at Blossom, the Joffrey Ballet offered a well-varied program of modern dance, contemporary ballet and classic favorites.

Anastacia Holden starred in the modern dance Night, by Julia Adam, in which she starts out curled up in sleep on a male dancer’s back, with three men in a row on their knees representing her bed, which comes to life. Holden encounters a seductive Tall Man who takes her on a dream journey. All the men wear flouncy gray pants that have been aptly described as faun-pants, while the mythological-looking women wear the same design in skirt trains.

The music by Matthew Pierce is rather nondescript, coming to abrupt stops a couple of times and even segueing into a syncopated pop-infused section with heavy drums that sounds like a rock band. Although the dance at times seemed to lose its way, it was clear that Holden’s character was trying to find elusive answers in her dream, but was repeatedly pulled in different directions by the men.

Lasting images included three women wrapped in gray fabric to represent a three-headed woman, Holden climbing up a male dancer’s leg and backside as if his body were steps, and Holden being carried upside down with her feet askew, adding to the off-kilter, surreal mood.

Balanchine enthusiasts got a big dose of his choreographic work — both his Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and his Stravinsky Violin Concerto. The pas de deux featured Dylan Gutierrez dressed as a prince and Daly again in a sprightly, joyful role as his love. The music for this Act III excerpt from Swan Lake wasn’t published with the original score in 1877 and was believed to be lost until 1953. Balanchine used the music, rediscovered in the Moscow Bolshoi archives, for his 1960 ballet.

Balanchine looked up to Stravinsky, creating 39 of his 400 ballets with the composer’s music. The Violin Concerto, featuring violin soloist Jun-Min Amy Lee, presents two arias with contrasting pas de deux. The first, with Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk on Sunday, looked beyond human. The dancers resembled fantastical birds at one point, with Wozniak’s elbows bent and hands spread downward as Adamczyk stood behind her, his arms reaching out from under her armpits and his hands up, palms out and fingers fanned.

The second pas de deux was much more intimate and sensual, with Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili looking into each other’s eyes. In a delightfully tender moment that’s repeated, Suluashvili slid on his knees toward the standing Jaiani, she pushed her knees together and he briefly held them.

Another high point of the program was British choreographer Wheeldon’s After the Rain, a study in contrasts that utilizes the dark music of Arvo Part to create a rainstorm with six dancers. The first part of the ballet is marked by sharp contemporary movement and tense, angular patterns.

That was followed by the “calm after the storm” in an achingly beautiful pas de deux danced Sunday night by Christine Rocas and Suluashvili. In the dance’s most gorgeous moments, he lay on his side with his knees drawn up at a right angle, supporting her right leg near his head with his hands as she seemed to arch back endlessly, her long hair flowing down. The loving partnering ended with her in a backbend, him crawling under her to lie on his back before she lowered herself to lie down across him.

The 2005 piece by Wheeldon was a study in tenderness that easily transcended the Joffrey’s performance of his swirling Carousel two years ago at Blossom.