Miami City Ballet finished its season at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts with Program Four — an upbeat and lively show — that presented two Balanchine works and a Paul Taylor work from its repertory. But it was the first work, Divertimento No. 15, performed with elegant and confident finesse, that was the true jewel of the evening.
The 1956 work that George Balanchine choreographed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 15th divertimento (in B-flat, K. 287) — which he deeply loved — just sparkled Saturday evening, reinforcing that no one does Balanchine quite like Miami City Ballet.
Dressed in cream and buttercup-yellow tutus decorated with a multitude of powder-blue bows that had an almost confectionary appeal, five ballerinas and three male dancers were featured, performing a string of virtuosic solo variations and a series of regal pas de deux.
Simone Messmer and Tricia Albertson were nicely paired as the work began, but it was Messmer in her role debut who really shone. Her exceptional quickness and clarity in her leg and foot articulation gave a polished ease and elegance to her solo, the Third Variation.
Nathalia Arja, as usual, glittered in the Fourth Variation. Though Messmer has a more reserved air about her, she joins Arja as a great conduit for the rapid and musical pointe work that is associated with Balanchine’s choreography.
Jeanette Delgado was wonderfully engaging in the impossibly fast Sixth Variation. Perhaps not quite as quicksilver in her footwork, Delgado always wins you over with her generosity as a performer.
Interestingly, Balanchine did create a male solo variation in this “tutu and tiara ballet” which Rainer Krenstetter danced with strength and agility. He was also nicely paired with Messmer in a lovely, fluid pas de deux in the Andante, as were Arja and Renan Cerdeiro.
The ensemble work which included a corps de ballet of eight women was impeccable, which gave the work an etched brilliance. But as confident and precise as the MCB dancers were in Divertimento No. 15, the different emphasis in the rapid movement of Paul Taylor’s Arden Court presented some real challenges for the dancers.
Arden Court is also quite formally structured. Using various excerpts from symphonies written by the 18th-century English composer William Boyce, Taylor’s continuous but quirky movement gave an eccentric interpretation to the Baroque music.
The signature Paul Taylor movements that permeated this work are designed to emphasize the natural use of weight and off-balance shapes. The work also had a lighthearted quality. All of this needed to be done effortlessly and at lightning speed in order to stay on top of the music.
This type of grounded movement doesn’t come naturally to ballet dancers who are trained to defy gravity. The result was that this performance of Arden Court did not have that distinctive carefree look that Taylor so often sets on top of the weaving traveling patterns and non-stop energy for which his choreography is so well-known. Instead, it had a concerned and slightly ragged look.
This Taylor work, in contrast to Balanchine’s work, which characteristically is constructed to emphasis the ballerina, focused on highlighting the six men in the cast and seemed to put the three women in a more supporting role capacity. In the Adagio section of the work, Taylor made the unusual choice to focus on the male interaction. Images abounded but they were carefully constructed — simple and effective. I particularly liked the simplicity of the chain of men — with palms touching as they stood in an x-shape — side by side with one link (one man) upside down.
Closing the program was Balanchine’s Who Cares?. Using an orchestration by Hershey Kay of George and Ira Gershwin songs from 1922 to 1931, Who Cares? evoked the heyday of the early Broadway musical, with its smiling girls and its dapper men dancing and romancing in front of a painted backdrop of a stylized New York cityscape by Jo Mielziner.
The unabashed spinoff of show-dancing began and ended with large ensemble sections that were joyfully danced with steps that Balanchine had interspersed with chorus line-style struts, kicks and poses.
Towards the middle, the work pared down to a more intimate feel, especially in the “run away, then run back” choreography of the sentimental, moonlit duet well-danced by Jennifer Lauren and Kleber Rebello.
Things continued to percolate with Arja’s solo to “The Man I Love.” Delgado abandoned herself and oozed romance in her duet with Rebello to “Embraceable You.” Lauren returned to show off great speed in her solo to “Fascinating Rhythm,” which was followed by a crisp and airborne dance by Arja and Rebello.
Who Cares? is a natural as a finale. It is a crowd-pleaser for all with its catchy, familiar tunes and easygoing dancing. On the way out, there was more than one person humming “I Got Rhythm,” while others had a little skip in their walk on the way back to their parked cars.
Making the evening even more enjoyable was the live music, expertly played by the Opus One Orchestra and conducted by Gary Sheldon.