Miami City Ballet adroitly launched its new season with the first of four diverse programs at the Kravis Center earlier this month. With a plethora of new dancers on the roster and some well-deserved promotions within the company ranks, MCB was in excellent form.
Fully energized and technically strong, the company members took on the challenges of the different dance styles of the three works presented Nov. 9. Under the expert baton of conductor Gary Sheldon, the Opus One Orchestra also met the challenges of the evening with great aplomb as they moved seamlessly from Igor Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D to excerpts from Franz Schubert’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, finishing with Richard Rodgers’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue.
The first two works, Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972) and Mercuric Tidings (1982), were choreographed by master dance makers George Balanchine and Paul Taylor. Both dances were beautifully crafted, extremely musical and wonderfully kinetic as well as excellent examples of the particular style for which each choreographer is known.
Balanchine created his dance in 1972 for the Stravinsky Festival presented by New York City Ballet; however, it was not the first time he had choreographed a dance to this particular music. He first used it in 1941 for Balustrade, a work he created for the Ballets Russes. Stravinsky himself conducted the orchestra for the premiere while the company was on tour in New York City. The elaborate costumes and fantastic set were created by Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian-born surrealist painter. Reviews and reactions to Balustrade were extreme, ranging from off-putting and outrageous to original and inspired.
In 1972, nonplussed when he couldn’t remember any of the choreography, Balanchine decided on a no-costume/no-scenery approach as he felt it would be better to direct the audience’s focus to the relationship of the music to the choreography.
Following the lead of Stravinsky’s score directly, each section is named after the movement. “Toccata” introduced the soloists, each in a role debut, as they entered one after the other. The graceful Katia Carranza broke the opening vignette with a grouping of four male dancers accompanying her. She was followed by Julia Cinquemani, a relatively new corps de ballet member, who took on her role as soloist with a natural confidence as she led her own string of four men.
Alexander Peters, a compact mover with an engaging energy, entered with four ladies and was replaced by a somewhat somber-faced Renan Cerdeiro who danced a brief solo before he was joined by his bevy of four females.
The symmetry in design continued as the soloists entered and exited now each with a quartet of dancers of the same gender. The light and easy energy the dancers portrayed belied the technique needed to execute the multitude of never-ending small and large jumps in the opening movement.
In the center of the dance were two arias with contrasting pas de deux. In “Aria I,” Cinquemani and Peters seemed at odds with each other as they danced to a strident section of Stravinsky’s score. Bodies arching away, arms reaching out, mostly dancing unconnected, the duet ended with Cinquemani using Peters’ body to do a backward walk-over ending as he flipped on his back to end like a board on the floor.
In “Aria II,” Carranza and Cerdeiro presented another type of relationship where the female was more acquiescent to the man. There was more connection, with held hands and enveloping arms, as they constantly circled each other in a somewhat manipulative type of partnering to which Carranza surrendered. The final pose was strikingly different from the first pas de deux. Standing just behind Carranza, Cerdeiro slowly opened his arm to the side three times, slowly rocking Carranza’s body in order to change her focus. He then folded his hand in and covered her eyes.
The last section was lightheartedly reminiscent of Russian folk dances with couples dancing in quartet formations at times with arms folded on top of each other or hands on their hips as their footwork matched the rhythmic patterns in the music. Mei Mei Luo was the outstanding violin soloist.
After the monochromatic look of Stravinsky Violin Concerto, there was something to be said about the reaction to the successful use of color onstage. The moment the dancers appeared onstage in Paul Taylor’s Mercuric Tidings — the women flashing bare legs and dressed in the vibrant pink ombre leotards and the men in bare torso and matching pink tights — we felt completely welcome.
Warmth flooded the stage as the 14 dancers skittered across the dance floor unleashing a whirlpool of fast, ebullient movement linked to every note in Schubert’s delightful music. Taylor, like Balanchine, is also highly esteemed for his iconic pure-dance works that revel in celebrating the beauty of music itself, and Mercuric Tidings is one of his finest examples.
The fast hellos and goodbyes on and off the stage were led by Emily Bromberg and Cerdiero, who mixed among the dancers’ changing formations created between all the quick entrances and exits. Fast, slow and then fast again, the three sections of dance were created from excerpts of Schubert’s early Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2.
Each was filled with classic Taylor movement motifs — curved, upward-lifted arms, traveling side tilts and fast low runs with swinging arms. It was clear that the dancers loved performing this work. Standouts were Satoki Habuchi and Shimon Ito, who hung their perfect unison dance phrases etched in space, Lauren Fadeley for her radiant energy and Mayumi Enokibara who was so lovely in her duet with Habuchi.
Finishing off the evening was another Balanchine work that was decidedly un-Balanchine but it hit just the right spot with the audience, which immediately settled into the pastiche humor of Slaughter on 10th Avenue as if they had just received an unexpected sweet treat.
In 1933, when Balanchine first arrived in this country with the purpose of creating a world-class ballet school, he found work at Ziegfeld’s Follies. successfully making dances for stars such as Josephine Baker. Soon, he was snatched up by Broadway to create musical show numbers and in 1936, he choreographed the full-length musical On Your Toes by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, which raised the standard to a new high for dancing in Broadway shows.
Slaughter on 10th Avenue was one of the two complete ballets that were presented in the original musical and the one Balanchine chose to rework in 1968 for ballerina Suzanne Farrell, his most famous muse, and Arthur Mitchell, who later went on to found the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
In its reincarnation as a concert piece, a series of vignettes — some spoken, some danced and some pantomimed — were linked together to convey the original storyline of the musical. It began with a pre-curtain dialogue between two cartoon-like characters, a jealous Russian danseur who has hired a hit man to shoot his love rival at the end of a dance performance. The attractive, vintage red velvet speakeasy that was the setting for the ballet within a ballet came complete with a trio of Keystone cops, a duo of cigarette-smoking bartenders, a strutting clutch of showgirls and the de rigueur ogling male clients.
Even conductor Sheldon played a role in the action by following directions to repeat and repeat the end of the music, thus delaying the planned shooting until the cops arrived. Like viewing a silent film in today’s age of film, the characters and the humor ran thin.
In Saturday evening’s cast, the ill-fated lovers were the Strip Tease Girl, danced by Kathryn Morgan, who joined MCB as a soloist this season, and the Hoofer, danced by Chase Swatosh, who has been promoted to principal soloist. Morgan was a firecracker. Strong and confident, with a great pizzazz for jazz style dancing, her energy was perhaps a bit too much for Swatosh to match. It was hard to believe in their love, and without that, how could there be such a dramatic ending to the story? (I won’t give it away.)
Nevertheless, Swatosh made up for this imbalance as he is quite an accomplished hoofer, which he ably demonstrated as he tap-danced away in order to avoid being shot. Unfortunately, the ballet within the ballet was strung out even longer when, after some mock bows, all of the performers danced an additional finale that seemed pointless and took the bang out of the ending.