When the curtain opened for Miami City Ballet’s world premiere of One Line Drawn at the Kravis Center on March 2, we immediately knew we were in for a complete change-up. There would be no tutus here.
With what seemed to resemble five sets of blaring headlights (stacked on top of each other) shining directly in our eyes, the dancers entered – first one, then another and another – mysteriously appearing from under the lights into the murky darkness of the stage to perform, almost ritualistically, a series of individualized movements – and then, somehow, they just dissolved into the blackness.
With their bare arms and legs warmed by the amber sidelights, the cast of eight women and eight men carved the movement with a detached but energized quality. Eventually, as they continued to enter and exit, they made loose connections and formations looking vaguely like a vast urban hoard of automatized people. The visuals were powerful and intriguing as the music pulsed voluminously up from the Kravis orchestra pit. We were ready for the journey.
Created by Brian Brooks as part of a three-year tenure as recipient of the Choreographer in Residence Fellowship at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance, One Line Drawn is an ambitious work that starts strong but falls short of its potential. Nevertheless, it was very exciting to see the dancers of Miami City Ballet thrive as they took on the new challenge of working with Brooks, who is a contemporary choreographer with a very different way of moving.
Brooks’s grounded and lateral movement was a real departure for these dancers who have mainly worked with contemporary choreographers from the ballet world. Brooks was eager to work outside his norm and particularly wanted to create a work on pointe. It was his challenge. The process of sharing and exploring in ways that were new to both the choreographer and the dancers clearly expanded their collective movement vocabulary. From my perspective in the audience, this artistic interaction was very successful as I have never seen the MCB dancers move quite like this. It was daring and it was exciting.
Even though the dancers seemed to put everything they had into the premiere of One Line Drawn, the appeal of the initial setup was not quite enough to sustain the work through its entirety. The choreography became repetitive and the dancers’ stamina seemed to dwindle towards the end of the lengthy work (10 of the 16 dancers had danced in the previous demanding ballet).
One of the strongest elements of the new work was the extraordinary contemporary score commissioned by Miami City Ballet and written by composer Michael Gordon. The Bang on a Can co-founder’s musical score for One Line Drawn was remarkable. It was bold, direct and mysterious all at the same time; however, Brooks didn’t seem to take advantage of the richness of the score instead choosing to almost lay the choreography on top of the music. Hearing this kind of contemporary music played live by the Opus One Orchestra masterfully led by Gary Sheldon was a major highlight of the evening.
Another tremendous asset to the work was the lighting design by Aaron Copp. Working with a grid spanning the upstage area that had six vertical bars with five lights each, he created a stark environment that changed as varying number of dancers appeared and disappeared mysteriously from directly upstage. At times there were 30 round lights lit and at one point the entire grid was lifted to create more height space. Later it was completely flown out and a new area was revealed upstage of the grid for the dancers to traverse.
The costumes, designed by Karen Young, were shapeless molten-silver tunics over short trunks. Though they worked conceptually with the overall look of the piece, they became a hindrance to seeing the full quality of the movement. They acted like a set of armor hiding the torso and the articulation of the movement that the dancers were working so hard to show. There was just too much fabric in the high-necked, pleated tops. All the intricate and isolated impulses in the movement vocabulary were lost. All we saw were bare arms and legs reacting to the initiation of the movement rather than the connection of the movement through the torso.
Unfortunately for some of the dancers, the shape of the tunic was just downright unflattering. Take Nathalia Arja, whose eye-catching energy was marred by the boxiness of her silver costume even thought she was giving full and utmost commitment to her movement. Also notable in the cast were Simone Messmer, Lauren Fadeley, Renan Cerdeiro, Jovani Furlan, Shimon Ito and Chase Swatosh.
One Line Drawn was sandwiched in the standard program format of one Balanchine and one Robbins work. The Friday evening performance began with Theme and Variations, the 1947 George Balanchine classic that reaches back to 19th-century Russian imperial ballet. It is the only major work that Balanchine ever made for American Ballet Theatre.
Choreographed to the fourth and final movement of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Third Orchestral Suite (in G major, Op. 55), it was danced in front of painted backdrops of a luxurious palace complete with chandeliers and gilded columns. The large cast of dancers was led by Jennifer Lauren and Kleber Rebello. Although all of them danced with lovely clarity and energy, sculpting the steps and formations of Balanchine’s choreography, their presentation lacked a sense of regality.
The evening ended with The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody), which Jerome Robbins created in 1956 to another series of piano preludes by Frédéric Chopin. Once again using the piano onstage but this time to comic effect, Robbins created a charming little depiction of a variety of characters in a park attending an outdoor concert. Tricia Albertson was luminous as the young woman in her large brimmed hat and Callie Manning was suitably severe as the controlling wife while Reyneris Reyes was very effective playing her roving-eyed husband.
A fun casting was the part of the concert pianist. Francisco Rennó (MCB’s company pianist and music adviser) not only beautifully played the Chopin selections but also played the comic role of an irritable pianist with great charm abruptly ending his performance to chase away all the concert-goers (but only the ones onstage) with a butterfly net.