STAGE NOTES: Joffrey Ballet, orchestra together again

September 1, 2010
Akron Beacon Journal
Kerry Clawson


Conducting the Joffrey Ballet with the Cleveland Orchestra went so well last summer, assistant conductor Tito Munoz is looking forward to doing it again at the Blossom Festival this weekend.

Last year was a momentous occasion for both organizations, considering the Joffrey hadn't performed at Blossom for 30 years and ballet hadn't been performed there for more than 20 years. A new partnership was forged in 2009, when conducting dance was largely a new experience for Munoz.

''Last year was great. I have worked with dancers before but not like this,'' said Munoz, 27. ''I'd never actually done real full ballet, when you have that interaction between the music and the dancers.''

He said it was a bit nerve-racking to have the Cleveland Orchestra and Chicago-based Joffrey together last year — ''two of the world's greatest of both disciplines.''

''It was a surprisingly wonderful experience. I really didn't expect it to be quite as natural for me,'' the assistant conductor said.

Munoz — who called Sunday from Stresa, Italy, near the end of the Cleveland Orchestra's European tour — will also be departing the orchestra this weekend as his three-year tenure wraps up. His duties with the Cleveland Orchestra have included covering for Music Director Franz Welser-Moest, planning and conducting education and family concerts, supervising in the recording booth for live radio broadcasts from Severance Hall, and conducting sound check rehearsals on tour.

The New York native plans to stay in Cleveland this year and work as a guest conductor in the United States and Europe. He already has an engagement with the Joffrey Ballet to conduct their Nutcracker in Chicago and St. Louis in December.

''Conductors are always freelancing,'' Munoz said.

The young conductor said high points of his work with the Cleveland Orchestra have been his full-program subscription concert debut in May at Severance Hall, his July 1 concert at Public Square in Cleveland and the Blossom concert he conducted July 11, which included Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and symphonic dances from Bernstein's West Side Story.

It's a safe bet Munoz will say farewell with a bang with this weekend's jam-packed Blossom program, which includes 93 solid minutes of dance featuring two new contemporary ballets and beloved classics.

''I think they're even stepping it up visually this year. It's going to be an intense program,'' said Munoz, who attended ballet rehearsals in Chicago before leaving for the orchestra's European tour.

On the program are:

• A revival of Reflections, choreographed by the late Gerald Arpino, co-founder of the Joffrey, set to Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. The fast-paced, neoclassical ballet, known for its high lifts and classic beauty, was re-created by Arpino in 1985. The piece will feature new principal cello Mark Kosower, ''one of the world's greatest cellists,'' Munoz said.

Age of Innocence, choreographed by Edwaard Liang in 2008. Liang, former New York City Ballet soloist, is considered a brilliant new talent in American dance. Set to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, the dance is inspired by the female characters of Jane Austen's novels. According to Munoz, the Cleveland Orchestra created the first orchestral transcription of a section of Newman music, which previously existed only in an electronic score from the movie Little Children.

Tarantella, a Balanchine classic set to Gottschalk's Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra. The piece will feature Joela Jones on piano.

• Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire, with choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Riccardo Drigo. The piece is ''as standard classical as you can possibly get for ballet,'' Munoz said.

• James Kudelka's Pretty Ballet, set to Bohuslav Martinu's 1943 Symphony No. 2. The dance had its world premiere in Chicago in April. The Joffrey will perform the piece for the first time with a full orchestra this weekend. Kudelka, considered one of North America's most boldly innovative choreographers, created this piece with 23 dancers as a metaphor for protecting the art of ballet.

How do the Cleveland Orchestra musicians feel about joining forces with the dancers and playing in the pit for a change?

''They've been telling me on tour they're looking forward to it,'' Munoz said. ''It's good for them to do more of a variety of things like this because it makes you a better musician.''

For the ballet company, it will be a treat to dance to the live music of a world-class orchestra rather than recordings for a couple of their pieces.

'''I think they were surprised when they came to Cleveland last year how they were affected by the music,'' Munoz said. ''They felt freer, almost, to do what they had to do.''

The Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland Orchestra will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $37 to $53 for the pavilion, $93 for box seats or $23 for the lawn. Two children ages 12 and younger are admitted free to the lawn with each adult ticket purchased. Call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141 or see