To put it succinctly, Miami City Ballet’s Nov. 17 show at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts was a terrific launch for the upcoming dance season, not just for MCB but for all the excellent dance that comes to Palm Beach County and South Florida.
Even though it is still early in the season, Dreyfoos Hall was filled with a larger-than-usual audience that was demonstratively enthusiastic, and rightfully so. Presenting three standout works from their repertoire, Miami City Ballet was in top form with a solid-gold program that deftly highlighted the crescendoing talent of its dancers. The company took to the stage in Program One with a new level of confidence and maturity without ever losing an ounce of their unbounded energy and delightful freshness.
Concerto Barocco and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, two of George Balanchine’s most iconic works, framed Company B, one of Paul Taylor’s most popular dances, set to nine appealing World War II-era songs sung by the Andrews Sisters. All three works were created in times of war by these master choreographers renowned for their innate relationship to music and their extraordinary ability to transpose musical notes into dance steps, albeit with very different results.
With these time-tested repertory pieces in the same program, it was natural to wonder how well they would be danced that night in comparison to other performances of these works one might have seen. Would the MCB dancers perform these cornerstone works of two of the greatest masters of choreography tonight and nail it? The challenge was most certainly met — and then some — with the company in impeccable form, most notably in the opening work, Concerto Barocco.
Originally made for the students of the School of American Ballet in 1941, the year the country entered World War II, Concerto Barocco was first performed by American Ballet Caravan and later by Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo before it was added, seven years later, to the repertory of New York City Ballet. It is said to be Balanchine’s quintessential work of that time period, full as it is of grace, simplicity and sophistication.
Danced in simple leotards and tights, the cast of 11 dancers personified the racing notes heard in the Concerto for Two Violins by J.S. Bach, which was marvelously played by Mei Mei Luo and Dina Kostic of the Opus One Orchestra. The two lead ballerinas, Ashley Knox and Simone Messmer, both in role debuts, were stunning as they executed their steps with beautiful precision and sensitive artistry. Messmer’s lush transitions and elegance was abundantly evident especially in the challenging partnering of the pas de deux, where she was beautifully partnered by Jovani Furlan, who was also in his role debut.
The excellent corps members, whose ensemble work was just flawless, were Emily Bromberg, Adrienne Carter, Julia Cinquemani, Mayumi Enokibara, Samatha Hope Galler, Ellen Grocki, Petra Love and Nicole Stalker.
Modern dance choreographer Paul Taylor, who died in August at age 88, created Company B while the country was involved in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. He chose to use the high-spirited and energetic music of the Andrews Sisters and set his fast-paced non-balletic movement against silhouetted images of soldiers at war. This juxtaposition was a comment on America’s optimism during wartime but also, in hindsight, its myopia.
The cast, with the exception of principal Jovani Furlan and principal soloist Alexander Peters, were all corps de ballet members, and it was a pleasure to have a chance to get to know these dancers better as individual performers. Company B, chock-full of engaging characters and interspersed with sensitive images, was just the way to do it.
The tall and willowy Christie Sciturro was a standout in “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” with her rich movement quality, filled with musicality and clarity, as was Ellen Grocki in “Rum and Coca-Cola” with her lovely lines and hips swaying to the calypso rhythms, flirting with a squadron of on-leave soldiers who were at her beck and call.
In “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!”, Furlan was downright dazzling. Wearing a pair of black framed glasses, the handsome Furlan hardly looked the part of a nerd. Surrounded by a bevy of bedazzled young women, he was wonderfully charismatic in his role playing and absolutely stellar in his technique.
The red-haired Peters was also a sparkling presence in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B),” filling his solo with zapping energy and a bravura show of his technical skills. Alex Manning, less polished and confident, was not as commanding in his solo, “Tico-Tico,” but did pick up his performance for the rest of the piece.
The success of choreographing to popular songs and dances led Taylor to create four other major works to popular music, which influenced many other choreographers to do the same. Twyla Tharp, who once danced in Paul Taylor’s company, created Nine Sinatra Songs, another very popular staple in MCB’s repertory.
The Opus One Orchestra, under the baton of Gary Sheldon, was also in top form. Closing the program with Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, the orchestra gave a strong performance that highlighted Francisco Rennó, MCB company pianist.
The ballet that Balanchine created to this score was a contemporary tribute to choreographer Marius Petipa, who is considered the father of classical ballet, and to his preferred composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. When it was first performed in 1941 by American Ballet Caravan on its goodwill tour of the United States and South America, and all the way up to 1973, when it was reworked for New York City Ballet, this three-movement ballet was called Ballet Imperial and was presented with opulent scenery and classical tutus reminiscent of the grand Russian ballet tradition.
Feeling that the choreography could stand alone with the music, Balanchine streamlined the work — stripping it of all of its decor, changing its title and simplifying the costumes to make them more contemporary. However, a touch of Imperial Russia still remains in the towering diamond tiaras that the women wear.
When the curtain opened for Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, it was striking to see how Balanchine was able to preserve the essence of Imperial Russia with a bare stage, a cast of 29 simply dressed, and his skillful use of patterns that hinted of Russian court life. Once again, the corps de ballet unison work was impressive.
I find it’s natural to gravitate to the always radiant performances of Jeanette Delgado. Her warmth onstage is what initially brings you in and then it is her beautiful, fully articulated movement and extreme musical sensitivity that holds you there. So, on Nov. 17, it was a deep pleasure to see Delgado (who was absent last season) back on the stage. Partnered by the attentive Rainer Krenstetter, she captured me with her beautiful performance. which once again demonstrated her unique dedication and skill in her developing her role, this time as the principal ballerina in Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.
The quicksilver Nathalia Arja was the second ballerina, whose lightning footwork always seemed to be skimming just above the ground as she delighted in dancing to the quick tempo of her music while constantly weaving in and out of the 22 corp members. She was accompanied by the lead couple and the four strong soloists: Bromberg, Galler, Harrison Monaco and Damian Zamorano.
There is a hierarchy that is inherent in ballet companies. Traditionally, a corps member is expected to work his or her way up the ladder before being cast in a solo role. But in MCB, and in this program in particular, there seemed to be a nice balance between casting the star power and showing the talent that is blooming in the lower ranks. I appreciate how this gives the audience a more democratic opportunity to view all of the dancers’ talents. It insures our interest in future performances and seeing these dancers as they climb the ranks.