Miami City Ballet gave a sparkling performance Feb. 18 at the Kravis Center in presenting its “Modern Masters” program. One might have expected to see a work by master choreographer George Balanchine, especially as the company itself is an offshoot of his New York City Ballet and most MCB repertory programs include at least one of his works. But this program was the exception.
Modern Masters featured two important works — Diversion of Angels and The Moor’s Pavane — by two of the most important modern masters of the mid 20th century modern dance movement, Martha Graham and José Limón. Both works were created almost 75 years ago when ballet and modern dance were separately defined entities.
The second half of the program was reserved for two choreographers who have a flair for contemporary ballet and are making a big mark in today’s dance world — Amy Hall Garner and Pontus Lidberg. Both of their works were recently commissioned by MCB and are an example of the amalgamation of the two distinct dance forms which is very popular in today’s choreography.
Diversion of Angels and The Moor’s Pavane are classic modern dance works that ballet companies have tended to gravitate toward and therefore numerous ballet companies around the world have them in their repertories. Diversion of Angels is the first Graham work that MCB has acquired and it joins The Moor’s Pavane in this company’s large and varied repertory.
On Saturday night, dressed in bright white, vibrant red or luminous yellow against a vivid blue background, the small cast of Diversion of Angels was inspired as they took to the stage. Graham’s strong use of color and floor patterns in this work had been influenced by abstract expressionist painter Wassily Kandinsky, who boldly used primary colors and strong lines in his canvases.
Originally called Wilderness Stair when it was choreographed in 1948, Diversion of Angels is an exuberant and lyrical work for three couples and a chorus of four female dancers who are echoed by four male dancers. This uplifting work, with its original score by American composer Norman Dello Joio, is distinctly different from much of Graham’s choreography, which tended to be more theatrical and allegorical.
However, it is a great introduction to her famous gravity-bound movement technique, which is not the way ballet dancers traditionally have been taught to move. Unlike ballet, the movement radiates from the core out to the extremities making extensive use of the contraction followed by the release to initiate movement.
As the curtain opened, Dawn Atkins, dressed in a long white dress, made a stunning tableau with Chase Swatosh behind her with his fingers splayed outward making a crown around her head. As The Couple in White, they represented mature love and there was a graciousness and calmness in their partnering. Atkins is a beauty and her elegance was forever caught in the exquisite image of her arabesque penchée over Swatosh’s backward hinge to the floor.
Katia Carranza and Steven Loch, The Couple in Red, represented romantic love (or erotic love as it was renamed during the 1980s) and the theme for The Couple in Yellow, which was exuberantly danced by Taylor Natukas and Shimon Ito, was the flirtatious love of youth.
The Moor’s Pavane, which was beautifully lit and costumed in deeply saturated colors, looked as if it were a treasured and newly restored Venetian Renaissance painting that had suddenly come to life.
Four richly robed dancers faced each other ready to partake in a pavane. Woven into the steps of the stately court dance, the tragic story of Othello (danced by Loch) and his wife Desdemona (Carranza) was revealed. Othello, The Moor, was deceived by his friend Iago (Swatosh) when, amid the courtly maneuvers, Desdemona lost her handkerchief, which was found by Iago’s wife (Hannah Fischer), who gave it to her husband. Iago uses it to convince his friend that his wife had been unfaithful, inciting Othello to kill Desdemona in a state of rage.
The Moor’s Pavane is José Limón’s most famous work and over the years, I have seen many casts perform it. It has been fascinating to see how each characters’ role can shift in the different casts and alter the shape of the drama depending on how they play their role. In this performance, Fischer as Iago’s wife Emilia was just such a case. Fischer’s thoughtful interpretation and elegant execution had more breadth and importance than I remember having seen in other versions, making me wonder if she might have been a willing participant in the tragedy.
Following these two iconic classic works from the modern dance masters of many years ago were two contemporary world premieres that were quite the switch-up. In both of these new works, the pointe shoes came back on, the costumes were trendy and brightly colored and the often fast-paced music was varied and demanding, with ever so many more steps compacted into the distinctly contemporary choreography.
In her second commission for MCB, Amy Hall Garner, a Huntsville, Ala., native, focused on combining the two dance forms of ballet and modern in her choreography. Her Resplendent Fantasy is a 17-minute work performed in three sections and set to music by Jonathon Dove, Komitas and Oliver Davis.
A small but excellent cast were on display — Adriennne Carter, Samantha Hope Galler, Ariel Rose, Francisco Schilereff and Matilda Solis. The first section was rapid fire and the dancers quickly made themselves known, filling the stage with energy and clarity as if there were twice the number of dancers onstage.
Closing the program was Swedish-born choreographer Pontus Lidberg’s newest work, Petrichor. The 25-minute work for 10 dancers, which was set to Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1 (1987), highlighted the talents of violin soloist Mei Mei Luo and the Opus One Orchestra.
Petrichor is the word for that earthy scent that is produced when rain falls on dry soil. The digital technology images that were projected on the backdrop subtly helped transport us from colorlessness to color — from barren to fertile — only to cycle back to the beginning.
In the first movement, the somber projections on the backdrop were dark and threatening as if a storm was approaching and were in juxtaposition to the vibrantly colored and hand-painted costumes created by former MCB soloist and fashion designer Andrea Spiridonakos.
Starting from the moment she first appeared onstage, Nathalia Arja quickly grabbed my focus and held on to it to the very end. Even though the lights were dark and it was hard to recognize the dancers, Arja’s contained but palpable energy and her quick, clean and concise movement were purposeful and helped anchor the dense choreography. Notable new faces among the ensemble of fleeting in and out dancers were Taylor Naturkas and Cameron Catazaro.
As the dance evolved and the music escalated to a more driving motif, it seemed as if the colors of the costumes had bled onto the cyc, adding pink and mauves and later green to the previously monochromatic environment. The sense of excitement increased as the women were caught in lift after lift until the dancers collected tightly together in the center of the stage and all the color around them disappeared. Back in the monochrome setting from the beginning, the dance had a long and drawn-out ending.
I have come to realize this season that printed individual programs have become a thing of the past, and I must say that I really miss having a program in my hand during the performance. Switching between the flimsy sheet of paper with just the casting and my phone screen to find out about the music and the other creatives involved is, at best, frustrating.
At the very least, there could be a board with a QR scan code at all the doors of the theater that could be used with our phones to immediately connect with all the wonderful information that used to fill the programs of the past.