The venerable Joffrey Ballet has always been a company that likes to take its show on the road. So when artistic director Ashley Wheater heard the Cleveland Orchestra was looking to bring ballet to Blossom Music Center for the first time in two decades, he immediately booked a flight to Miami to attend a January 2009 benefit performance. One meeting with orchestra general manager Gary Ginstling, and he was checking out Blossom a few weeks later — in the middle of a winter storm.
“It was completely covered in snow,” the Scottish-born Wheater recalls with some amusement. “But you could see the stage, and it was huge. And it was beautifully done. As soon as I saw the venue, I thought, Wow! There’s a lot of things we can do here.”
Wheater’s initiative spawned a partnership between the two organizations that resulted in a pair of performances by the Blossom Festival Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet last year. That relationship continues with two more shows Sept. 4 and 5. Ginstling notes that the effort is actually a continuation of a long history of ballet at Blossom that began when the facility opened in 1968 and included Joffrey during the 1972 and 1979 seasons.
“We’re creating a lot of different kinds of concert series, trying to get as broad an audience as possible,” Ginstling says. “We thought the idea of bringing back ballet made a lot of sense.”
Wheater admits that there are logistical challenges in bringing the road-worthy Chicago-based troupe to any venue. Dancing to music performed by a live orchestra is an added test of both musicians’ and dancers’ talents. And rehearsal time is often limited to a mere three hours, every minute of which is needed to space movements and plan entrances and exits on an unfamiliar stage. Ginstling adds that the Blossom pavilion, which was built specifically for orchestra performances, has limited space beside and above the stage for scenery.
Despite these challenges, and though there is no commitment to work together every year, Ginstling and Wheater see a bright future for the venture — a future Wheater first saw in the snow.