Passion rules as Joffrey Ballet performs 'Age of Innocence' at Blossom

September 6, 2010
Akron Beacon Journal
Kerry Clawson


Passions raging beneath the surface are brought to life in Edwaard Liang's sumptuous Age of Innocence, the most captivating part of the Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland Orchestra program at Blossom Music Center last weekend.

The ballet company, which collaborated with the Cleveland Orchestra last year for the first time in 30 years, returned this year with an even more intense program, led by Liang's 2008 commission. Liang's inspiration was the 19th-century ballroom of Jane Austen's heroines, where the mere touch of a hand ignited passion, love, longing and frustration.

His dance begins with men on one side, women on the other in courtly fashion, framed by a huge red velvet curtain backdrop. The bowing and curtsying shifts to a much more modern style with full body contact in First Dialogue, a duet between Christine Rocas and Mauro Villanueva. This dance is so full of longing, Rocas wraps herself around Villanueva's waist in fetal position, midair.

The racing urgency of the Philip Glass music made one think of these young people's pounding hearts.

In an age when women were not free to choose their spouses, Liang speaks to the rage young women felt when they were promised to one person but loved another. That's most apparent in the stunning Obey Thee duet between Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels.

One gets the feeling in this tension-filled duet that Jaiani is a reluctant partner. Calmels takes charge repeatedly, grabbing her ankle while she's in a deep arabesque and boldly flipping her onto his back. The extremely tall Calmels is the heroic dancer of the show, both in Age of Innocence and in the closing Pretty BALLET.

A male quartet speaks to the men's frustration as they engage in open competition, ending in a pose that looks like one pair is about to strike the heads of the other. But decorum reigns in the end, as the ballet returns full circle to the ballroom.

In contrast, Gerald Arpino's Reflections, which opens the program, is restrained in its emotion. The vintage Arpino piece, performed in tribute to the Joffrey Ballet's late co-founder, is pure ballet set to Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. High points were the tender partnering between Christine Rocas and Miguel Blanco in Variation VI, as well as the rich cello solo by esteemed newcomer Mark Kosower, who made his instrument sound like a living, breathing organism.

Providing further contrast was the tambourine-playing humor in the Tarantella pas de deux, a joyful piece full of ethnic Neapolitan flair, choreographed by Balanchine. Here, the handsome Derrick Agnoletti is a big ham with a huge smile.

As extraordinarily talented as these dancers are, at times they showed that they were human. Saturday night, Blanco appeared to lose his balance landing from an aerial turn in the classical Le Corsaire pas de deux. And one dancer in the female corps de ballet fell and jumped back up in a flurry of long white tulle skirts in Pretty BALLET.

The art of dance itself is elevated in Pretty BALLET, a piece by James Kudelka that the Joffrey Ballet premiered in April. It begins with Calmels holding the rigid Valerie Robin, the ballet muse, high above his head. She lies in frozen horizontal position with her arms bent straight up at the elbows and her long skirt cascading over Calmels' face.

The huge ballet of 24 dancers, set to the music of Bohuslav Martinu, was created to represent the balancing of romantic art against hard, industrial ideas. It's not clear that Calmels is supposed to represent harsh industrialism. But we see that he is trying to protect his muse, especially when their flawless pas de deux appears to come under assault by the entrance of other dancers. Robin goes back to her rigid state and Calmels continues to try to dance with her in an effort to revive her.