Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Dance Review: Miami City Ballet, A Balanchine Love affair

Tricia Albertson & Jeremy Cox in Square Dance, MCB, photo by Joe Gato A gutsy appearance by Miami City Ballet to be in the New York City Center performing Balanchine repertory.  The company is second to New York City Ballet in the amount of Balanchine repertory performed by any company in the world.  This was a momentous occasion for Edward Villella, who is known for being Balanchine’s Prodigal Son.  He certainly lives up to that role now, by his preservation of the Balanchine masterpieces.  In part of the program Edward Villella admits that he wanted to wait till Miami City Ballet was strong enough that they wouldn’t embarrass themselves before coming to perform in New York. 

This certainly was an exciting performance series for Villella, as he himself had performed in New York City Center early in his ballet dancing career with Balanchine’s company.  Certainly his choice of Rubies in the program was significant- as he had been the solo male dancer whom Balanchine choreographed the ballet upon.    Villella looked pleased with his company’s performance, cheerily conversing with patrons during intermissions, and graciously bowing onstage at the end of the performance.

Ah yes, the performance.  It was AMAZING, of course.  The 54 member strong Miami City Ballet has grown tremendously in its less than 25 years of existence.  The performance included three segments of Balanchine ballets:  "Square Dance," then the "Rubies" portion of the ballet "Jewels," and finally, "Symphony in C".  "Square Dance" is a great opener- inviting, lively and fun. The dancers’ energy pumped up the audience, who joined in the joy of the dance.  Originally, Square Dance was produced differently- Balanchine actually featured a real square dance caller who coordinated his speedy speech with the fastidious footwork of the dancers.  Unfortunately for current audiences, the caller has been omitted.  Thus Square Dance has evolved to be less about the inspiration from its origins of southern social dance and seemingly more square in the patterns of choreography.  A particular sequence of pirouettes from fifth position feeding into embroites and a releve coupe balance repeated looked fun and challenging.  The difficulty in the work made one want to exclaim (especially the dancers of our world), "GET IT!" The company exhibited exquisite technique, yet in Square Dance there were several arabesques that were not square- out of line with open hips, not classical, but classically Balanchine.  All in all, the essence of Square Dance being a social dance remained true, as the free spirited dancing was enticing. 

Jennifer Kronenberg & Renato Penteado(2) in Rubies- Photo by Joe GatoNext in the program was "Rubies," excerpted from  Balanchine’s "Jewels" ballet.  Most stunning was the opening image, with a semicircle of dancers in fourth position en pointe, delicately touching fingertips as to create a long strand of jewels.  The audience immediately applauded, recognizing the beauty-and any dancers watching appreciated the difficulty of holding such a position without wobbling.  In the ballet a female is promenaded by four male dancers, who all surround her, holding her ankles and wrists as she shifts positions.  The care in which each male addressed her was reminiscent of a craftsman jeweler refining a ruby, cutting his precious stone.  The carving of jewels is a wonderful metaphor for the honing of skill required of a ballet dancer that was so clearly depicted in Balanchine’s choreography.  Another almost funny promenade caught one’s attention as the male partner squatted in a second position grande plie, supporting an off-balance ballerina in penche arabesque.  Balanchine always pushed his dancers to extremes challenging them technically and artistically.  This ballet is no different, as dancers bring humanity to something so abstract as jewels.  The Miami City ballet dancers were stunning onstage with brilliant technique and shining flirtatious artistry.  Balanchine’s imaginative choreography featured eye-catching moves that one rarely sees in ballet:  dancers with high parallel passes, striking out to second position on the heels of flexed feet with arms flaring to high "v".  Exuberant corps de ballet work in Rubies featured dancers switching deep lounges with the front leg forced over on point, numerous high battements, and effervescent if not sexy step touches on point.  Not so polished was a segment of dancing that made one wonder if their lines were supposed to be straight.  One audience member commented that the ballet contained lots of moments in which the dancers seemed to say, hey, "look at my balances!" Certainly by the finishing pose the audience was left stunned, blinded by the beauty beheld onstage.

Miami City Ballet, Balanchine, SYMPHONY IN C, photo by Joe Gato photos 010 The final ballet presented was "Symphony in C".  Balanchine had originally created this ballet as "Le Palaise de Cristal" for Paris Opera Ballet, then later revised it for New York City Ballet.  The white tutus against the cerulean blue backdrop reflected this history- a gorgeous picture as if indeed from a palace of crystal.  The male dancers were handsomely attired in solid black, together with the ballerinas in white it was as if sheet music had evolved coming to life in dancing form.  The patterns of the dancers, whose circuitous port de bras decorated the systematic linear formations, depicted the musical score, and definitely scored in impressing the audience.  Jete lifts landing in fourth position on point were accompanied by series of changing footwork into soutenus, a complicated interweaving of legs.  Pleasure is felt watching the repetitive movements, as if order is restored to the universe. The dancers’ port de bras seemed to sing tones of the wind instruments while changing of fifth positions on pointe echoed the plucking of strings.  The poster picture of the ballerina in penche, her nose touching her knee as she grasps onto her kneeling partners’ hands was flaunted in this last ballet, eliciting applause and awes from the audience.

The lines were fantastic, with fierce execution of steps; yet, the neoclassical Balanchine technique can be painful for other classical dancers to watch, i.e., the turned in legs in a battement devant, heels that don’t touch the floor in plie, and arms whacked behind the plane of the body.  Dancers must have rock solid torsos to even allow their bodies to execute the Balanchine style.  However, if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, the sheer pleasure of experiencing the passion of Miami City Ballet will take you away from cold and dismal New York to a bright tropical paradise of dance.

iDANZ Critix Corner
Official iDANZ Review by Lea McGowan
Performance:  Miami City Ballet, Program B
Venue:  City Center, New York City
Date:  Saturday, January 24, 2009

Photos by Joe Gato

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