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Cleveland Orchestra superb, Joffrey Ballet disappoints

What happens when The Cleveland Orchestra, considered to be one of the world’s great ensemble of musical performers, couples with the Joffrey Ballet, hailed as “America’s Ballet Company of Firsts?” After their well-received five sold-out performance of THE NUTCRACER last winter at PlayhouseSquare, and their past linking at Blossom, the very large opening night audience was filled with high expectations.

The orchestra, under the baton of Tito Muñoz, held up its end of the coupling by beautifully interpreting both modern and symphonic music with proficiency.  On the other hand, Joffrey, though it reached brilliance in one segment of the evening, did not deliver on its expected luminosity.

The evening opened with INTERPLAY, originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and danced to sprightly music by Morton Gould.  Robbins, mostly known for his Broadway creations, including THE KING AND I, WEST SIDE STORY and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, conceived INTERPLAY to be an interaction of music and dance, filled with humor and jazzy influences.  This is a dynamic all-American piece.

Unfortunately, the Joffrey company seemed incapable of producing the intended joy.  The dancers, especially the male corps, were consistently out of sync, with jagged lines and missteps highlighting the number.  They had difficulty producing many of the classic and contemporary moves. In contrast to the orchestra’s creation of joyful sounds, the dancers failed to produce the parallel energy and proficiency.   This was definitely a second string group of young dancers who started off the evening on a less than positive note.

SON OF CHAMBER SYMPHONY, danced to deconstructionist music by John Adams, who composes in the minimalist tradition of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, allowed choreographer, Stanton Welch, to probe standard ballet traditions and invent ways to look at them through a different lens.  The purpose was not storytelling awareness, but emotional reaction.

The three movement composition, was well danced.  The highlight was a pas de deux by April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez, which contained fluid movements, fine partnering, exquisite toe work, and an excellent parallel between musical sounds and dancing.  The piece ended with not only strong positive audience reaction, but the dancers applauding the orchestra.

The highlight of the evening was a superb, fluid performance of ADAGIO by Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashivili.  The duo was perfectly matched in dancing skills and played well off each other.

ADAGIO, as choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, and set to music from SPARTACUS by Soviet Armenian composer, Aram Kachaturian, was effectively lit by Jack Hehler.

Possokhov, a Russian born and trained former member of the Bolshoi Ballet, has created a dance that is full of movement, which flows to the ebbs and tides of the lush music.  The orchestra created the perfect sounds for enhancing the proficiency of the dancers.

Now considered one of the great works of balletic music, reviews of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s THE RITE OF SPRING, tagged the work as “The work of a madman.” Those comments heralded the May 29, 1913 ballet and orchestral concert, performed at Paris’s Theatre des Champs-Elysees.  The piece  was choreographed by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky.

The reviewers were not alone in their evaluation.  The avant guard music, which is often atonal, with non-traditional meter and rhythm, and dissonant stress, and the sensational choreography, resulted in vocal and physical riots by the audience.

Bowing to the reviews and reaction, the piece did not get another major performance for many years.  The 1980 reconstruction of the Najinsky original choreography by the Joffrey Ballet brought the work back of life.

The ballet and its music may have incited strong reaction in its early days, but, based on the comments by those exiting the Saturday night’s performance, there was neither positive excitement nor strong praise for THE RITE OF SPRING.

The piece, which mainly consisted of performers walking and shuffling in circles, sliding across the stage by small groups in straight lines, and an extended self-induced death by an emotionally reserved female dancer, did not develop the strong feelings needed.  It may have been the repetitious movements, the lack of emotional involvement, the minimal actual dancing, or the years of audiences hearing what were once unusual musical sounds, but the overall effect was not strongly positive.

The strongest reaction at the end of the concert was the irritation of those waiting in endless lines to get on the trams to go to the parking lots.  Long waits and what appeared to be poor organization, did not endear the crowd to Blossom.

Capsule judgement:  The much anticipated reunion of The Cleveland Orchestra and the Joffrey Ballet resulted in an evening that was less than expected. The orchestra was superb, the ballet company, though there were two highlight segments, failed to live up to its reputation.  Too bad.  Cleveland has no permanent ballet company and the appearance of the world renowned Joffrey should have given ballet aficionados a chance for a fulfilling experience.