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April 2016

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Juilliard Dance

Published: April 21, 2016
Category: review

Miami City Ballet Gets it Right. Mostly

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK–Miami City Ballet’s gala opening night (April 13), presented by the Joyce Theater at the former New York State Theater, offered what gala opening nights should offer: A taste of a company’s new and old repertoire, a best-foot-forward presentation of its stars and corps, and programming that leaves one hungry for more. Credit Lourdes Lopez, MCB artistic director since 2012, with smart choices. Following a luminous, 23-year career at New York City Ballet, Lopez has become a top-notch director, stager, and executive of the ballet world. The company she helms is one of Balanchine’s offspring, founded by former NYCB principal Edward Villella. Yet it doesn’t look like NYCB. Its female dancers, in particular, possess aspects that are unmistakably Miami—America’s Caribbean city by the beach. They dance with languid sensuality and a spine-tingling physicality, and they are more normally proportioned than most of their stick-thin NYCB peers.

The gala program opened with Serenade, Balanchine’s first work made in America. As the curtain rose on two-dozen women dressed in romantic blue tutus, with their right arms raised in salute, it brought to mind the famed choreographer’s dictum: “Ballet is woman.” As such, Serenade was a pitch-perfect choice: this was the company’s first time in the house of Balanchine, MCB’s artistic director is a woman, and Serenade dancers Simone Messmer, Nathalia Arja, and Emily Bromberg offered the evening’s strongest performances.

Nathalia Arja and Miami City Ballet dancers in Symphonic Dances at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. (Photo: © Sasha Iziliaev)

Nathalia Arja and MCB dancers in Symphonic Dances at Lincoln Center (Photo: © Sasha Iziliaev)

Danced to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Serenade also highlighted the orchestra—on loan, in an unprecedented move, from the New York City Ballet and under the baton of MCB conductor Gary Sheldon. They were given further chance to shine in their own musical interlude, performing the Tchaikovsky scores for Balanchine’s Mozartiana and Theme and Variations. Another Romantic-era offering came in Alexei Ratmansky’s Symphonic Dances, set to Rachmaninoff’s titular composition and created for MCB in 2012. Like many of Ratmansky’s works, there is a lot on offer: hints of a punitive regime (with Kleber Rebello as the working-class rebel), a tragic love story (danced by Renato Penteado and Jeanette Delgado), a black-tie ball, and a triumphant heroine (performed by the quicksilver Brazilian marvel Nathalia Arja). Over the course of 34 minutes, 23 dancers are set in constant motion with three costume changes (designs by Adeline André and Istvan Dohar). In the first, Rebello dances in white, with a red blotch-like star on his back (as if he is marked by war); meanwhile the cast surrounds him in sand-colored hues. In the second, the women resemble exotic flowers in bloom: Their tulle dresses billow their torsos as the men in black waltz them. In the last, Arja appears with the red star-like symbol on her chest. The men wear hoodies. It’s a lot to take in.

If the gala represented a deftly chosen package, program B (seen at the April 16 matinee), despite solid performances, lacked balance and felt a wee bit hysterical. All three full-ensemble works—Justin Peck’s Heatscape (2015), Liam Scarlett’s Viscera (2012), and Balanchine’s Bourée Fantastique (1949)—emphasized speed. Peck’s piece, danced to Martinu’s ever-busy Piano Concerto No. 1 and created for MCB, reads like much of the work he creates for NYCB: unceasingly acrobatic, fleet-footed, and, for the men, air-bound. Scarlett, the Royal Ballet’s Artist in Residence since 2012, offered a more complex and mature vehicle for the dancers with Viscera, aptly reflecting the complex rhythms and bold sonorities in Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (handled eloquently by MCB company pianist Francisco Rennó). In the second movement’s foreboding adagio, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg seemed to seduce Carlos Miguel Guerra; yet rather than being steered by her male partner, like many pas de deux, the red-haired Kronenberg appeared as if she was climbing and snaking around him. The ensemble choreography, for the first and third sections, brought to mind a bouquet of thorny roses, thanks in part to the red and blue velvet leotards (designed by Scarlett). Each body movement had a cut-gem-stone quality: precise, sharp, foreboding. Then, like absolute monarchs, the 17 performers regally launched themselves through space, never wavering.

Copyright © 2016, Musical America




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