Without a doubt, the highlight of Miami City Ballet’s performance at the Kravis Center on Feb. 3 was Jerome Robbins’ In The Night. Beautifully cast and exquisitely danced by each of the three couples, it was a standout moment of excellence in an all-Robbins program marking the centennial of the choreographer’s birth, a perfect convergence of the best of MCB and the best of Jerome Robbins.
Reflecting on the different stages of love, Robbins created in this 1970 ballet a subtle and lovely work that one could say lies somewhere between neoclassical ballet and dance drama. Set to four Frédéric Chopin nocturnes that were played by pianist Ciro Fodere (almost too softly to hear), In The Night gleamed just like the sparkling stars in the backdrop above the dancing couples.
Ashley Knox and Alexander Peters, a new addition to MCB this season as principal soloist, were a nice complement to each other. Dressed in romantic-style costumes in pastel lilac and mint, they conveyed the head-over-heels feeling of being young and in love. With their beautifully fluid upper bodies and their suspended airborne lifts, the pair personified one’s first feelings of love.
Samantha Hope Galler and Reyneris Reyes were a more understated version of love, stately and mature with their polite gestures and courtly costumes in shades of coral and rust. There was not much interaction between the two but their technique and footwork was clear and beautiful.
The partnering in the third pas de deux, danced by Simone Messmer and Ariel Rose, was different — more passionate and more tempestuous. Wearing dark costumes, their relationship was in an agitated state of flux, running to and from each other and interspersing wonderful swoopy lifts with beautifully controlled partnering. Messmer would leave the stage only to return and then Rose would exit and return. Conflicted but attached, the duet ended with her low on the floor and her palms upturned in a gesture of asking forgiveness. Messmer’s and Rose’s dancing was sublime: filled with gorgeous transitions, lovely lines and an overall richness.
In the fourth section, the three couples entered to meet and greet each other in a cordial and respectful manner as if they were viewing what they had lived through in their relationship or what they imagined they would experience in the future. In The Night was created soon after Robbins returned to the ballet world after an enormously successful and very prolific Broadway career, and he found himself in an extremely difficult and volatile time in his personal life.
The other highlight in Program Two was the company premiere of The Cage, which was still surprisingly effective 65 years after it was choreographed. This Robbins work has a distinctive and edgy look to it and it is still able to imprint a very vivid memory. The story had tinges of a cult horror movie with its 14 female insect-beings programmed to kill the partners with whom they mate. With bushes of wild hair and silent, open screams, the swarm of insect women took control of the stage making us feel like we were voyeurs to this horrible rite.
Jordan-Elizabeth Long danced the role of the fierce leader who manipulated the newest member of the nest, Nathalia Arja, and initiated her in the ritual of killing her first prey, Didier Bramaz. When Ariel Rose entered her domain, the conflicted Arja felt an attraction for him but duty prevailed and she mercilessly killed him at the end of a strong and animalistic mating duet.
The diminutive Arja was larger than life in her role as the novice. Totally invested in her bizarre character, Arja completely owned the strange insect-like movements. Her body arching and curving while her legs moved with clarity and attack, Arja was in her element dancing with enormous conviction to Igor Stravinsky’s arresting Concerto for String Orchestra.
Opening the program was Circus Polka, a ditty that Robbins made for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival that used 48 young ballet students dressed in pale pink, green and blue floppy tutus who followed each other making a series of line formations and stopping to pose like animals in the circus. Robbins himself played the ringleader — strutting in high-topped black boots and wearing a red jacket and a tall top-hat while cracking his long whip in the air. But in this Saturday night’s performance, it was Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, who cracked the whip and played the role of the ringmaster all with a great warmth and enjoyment.
One of my favorite Jerome Robbins ballets has always been Other Dances (1976). I was fortunate enough to see it danced by the original — and truly extraordinary — cast, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Other Dances is also set to piano music by Chopin but for this work, Robbins chose a series of mazurkas, which lent a playful air to the pas de deux performed Saturday night by Tricia Albertson and Jovani Furlan, who both were making their role debuts in the company premiere. Francisco Rennó accompanied them playing onstage as Albertson and Furlan danced both together and individually.
Of the two, Furlan seemed much more engaged. He clicked his heels and connected with the audience. His natural charm and more sprightly footwork gave a freshness to his dancing. Albertson, on the other hand, seemed less involved and not that in tune with the music or her handsome partner.
The evening ended with West Side Story Suite, which is a compilation of some of the popular songs from the iconic and beloved Leonard Bernstein musical that Robbins conceived, directed and choreographed in 1957.
The dance medley he put together for the ballet stage falls way short of the original musical and leaves one with an unsatisfied feeling. It is impressive to see MCB and its dancers take on the challenge of singing, acting and dancing as if they were trained for Broadway but these snippets just aren’t cohesive enough to work as concert dance piece.
As always, the Opus One Orchestra accompanied the evening’s dances, this time under the very capable baton of guest conductor Beatrice Jona Affron.