Let there be [more] light. When Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley C. Wheater spoke to the press earlier this summer I asked him if the company would make any set changes based on experience gained after last year’s successful Blossom appearance with the Cleveland Orchestra. The first thing he mentioned was the lighting–that they hadn’t realized how much natural ambient light detracted from the dancers. They certainly fixed that. Walking into the Pavilion this year (at a 30-minute later start time) proved to be a visually stunning experience. The vast Blossom stage appeared draped in plush cherry burgundy fabric from floor to ceiling. (Turns out it that was an illusion, but I had to get next to the stage to see how they did it.)
Two new ballets “Age of Innocence” (2008) and “Pretty Ballet” (2010) showed just how much dance is changing (and how successful those changes can be). Although the title suggests Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel of the same name, “Age of Innocence” is really about Jane Austen’s world according to choreographer Edwaard Liang. Music by Philip Glass (with score by Thomas Newman for the final section) accompanied and inspired the ensemble as they lined up a la traditional 18th-century dance for “First Dance.” By the time the ballet concluded we knew no one felt innocent any more. “Pretty Ballet” was indeed pretty–fluffy (but see-through) skirts on the ballerinas emphasized not only the beauty of the dance, but the strength that supported their graceful movements. The wit and spice shown by the duo in Balanchine’s “Tarantella” (1964) showed how well this traditional Neapolitan dance lent itself to ballet.
Not everything was magic. The Pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” (1856) suffered from an old tradition (dancers waiting for bows after every section) that must have worked better when dancers were closer to audiences. Another problem with applauding after each effort is that multiple rotating turns aren’t that impressive to eyes jaded by watching ice skaters do the same thing–only more and twice as fast. “Reflections” featured Mark Kosower, the orchestra’s new cellist playing the solo part in Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme.” Kosower played with feeling and nuance, but the piece was so quiet that the audible thumps of the dancers landing after leaps and moving around the stage broke the spell.
But those are quibbles compared to the excitement and thrill of watching a truly world-class dance company paired with a world-class orchestra (ably conducted by Tito Munoz) in a live performance on a summer evening in lovely Blossom Music Center.
Laura Kennelly is a freelance arts journalist, a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, and an associate editor of BACH, a scholarly journal devoted to J. S. Bach and his circle.
Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.