CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio -- For most of its 50-plus years, the Joffrey
Ballet shied away from the repertoire that George Balanchine built at
the New York City Ballet, because the company spent its early years
virtually on the same urban turf.
Enter artistic director Ashley Wheater in 2007.
Mr. Wheater has not been shy about putting his stamp on the
Chicago-based company. Where the Joffrey was known for its American
style and historical reconstructions, it is now moving in a contemporary
But the program at Blossom Music Center on Saturday, in partnership
with the Cleveland Orchestra, was indeed an American program -- only it
didn't include any ballets by founder Robert Joffrey or his successor,
Instead, the audience found a new contingent of names. Besides Mr.
Balanchine, who was represented by two ballets, "Stravinsky Violin
Concerto" and "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," the evening included lush
modern dance master Lar Lubovitch's "Othello Pas de Deux," West Coast
artist Julia Adam's "Night" and current choreographic darling of the
ballet world, Christopher Wheeldon, with "After the Rain."
It is pleasing to note that Mr. Balanchine's work remains as
innovative as ever in comparison to today's choreographers, even though
both of the Blossom Center works were almost ancient history (1972 and
1960) by today's standards. And Mr. Wheater's respect was such that he
placed them at the end of the program.
The violin concerto, played with a robust intelligence by Cleveland
associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee, is not only one of Mr.
Balanchine's signature black-and-white ballets, but also one of his
masterworks in a long collaboration with the Russian composer.
The New York City Ballet recently performed it as part of its
three-part series on those striking ballets at Kennedy Center. That
company treated Stravinsky's work as a metaphor for life, transitioning
his abstract compositional angularities into something by turns sleek
and sophisticated, willfully knotted and, to balance it all, sprinkled
with a dash of humor gleaned from a jaunty orchestral staccato. So New
The Joffrey cast put, shall we say, more pizazz into the piece, and
it stood up brilliantly amid the dancers' obvious delight with the
choreography, picking through the score with unexpected wiggles, bumps
and, at the end, a stylized folk dance. The men, in particular, had a
clean athleticism that was particularly well suited to this piece.
The Cleveland Orchestra, led by conductor Tito Munoz, was at full
traditional and sumptuous force during the Tchaikovsky pas de deux,
performed by April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez, who were able to ride the
ensemble's musical tidal waves with a dazzling brio. And while the brief
look at "Othello" had Ms. Daly working through almost acrobatic moves
before its dramatic finish, Fabrice Calmels brought a combined sense of
power and tragedy to his Shakespearean interpretation.
The Balanchine connection was not finished, for Mr. Wheeldon spent
some significant time with NYCB as a dancer and resident choreographer;
the influences could not be denied. Certainly, Mr. Wheeldon has the
imagination and creativity of Mr. Balanchine, but he has developed his
In "After the Rain," he conveyed the atmosphere found in music by
Arvo Part, first with six dancers in gray, then with Mr. Calmels in a
glowing duet with Victoria Jiaiani, the reigning ballerina in the
company. The music was transparent, the movement softly caressing. It
was one of those rare moments, so private for a large facility, that the
audience held its collective breath.
It all began, though, with Ms. Adam's "Night," a ballet that was
inspired by Marc Chagall's dreamscape paintings, where objects, animals
and human beings, or their parts, often float. Actually it was a quite
lovely journey, led by diminutive Anastacia Holden, so in contrast with
tall Mr. Gutierrez (something that is rarely emphasized in ballet), and
the impetus for a fantastical journey.
There were men in gray swirling ruffled pants and women in skirts,
often surrounding and supporting her like a mist. They billowed and
pulled at her, flying and falling. And at the end, she took a leap into
While this collaboration seemed to feature orchestra compositions
more last year, the 2011 program put the emphasis on the choreography.
But that doesn't mean that there was an imbalance.
With the dance providing a stunning visual display, the orchestra
still made its musical points brilliantly, even in the most private
moments. Here's to 2012!
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