The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2016

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MAY 2016 Issue

Miami City Ballet Brings the Heat

Miami City Ballet brings challenging repertory to the Koch Theater stage, a run that includes George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, and Liam Scarlett, with accompaniment by the New York City Ballet Orchestra (helmed by Gary Sheldon). The shared music, venue, and slate of choreographers evokes the New York City Ballet, but the Miami troupe infuses its dancing with greater energy and effervescence than the excellent resident company.

Heatscape by Justin Peck. Credit: Gene Schiavone.

New York
Koch Theater
Miami City Ballet Presented By The Joyce Theater Foundation
April 13 – 17, 2016

Under the direction of Lourdes Lopez, the company brings terrific verve to Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, opening the first repertory program. Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro delight with their partner work, interlocking their angled limbs in Balanchine’s still striking modernist vocabulary. Stravinsky orchestrations offer musical fireworks to accompany the kinetic bursts. As a whole, the company’s bright dynamism shrinks the gap between audience and performer, an intimacy that NYCB is less successful in achieving.

Twyla Tharp’s Sweet Fields shifts gears. The music—hymns, Shaker songs, harps—sets an elegiac tone for the dancers, who wear all-white, robe-length over-shirts. The movement alludes to the spiritual: backward runs evoke the repetition in some Shaker rituals, the men clasping their hands overhead in pirouettes as if pleading with higher spirits. At one point, a group of dancers bear one of their own aloft in a funereal procession, letting him roll down their arms horizontally. In an even bolder moment, one man is spun 180º, like the hand on a clock. The women, in soft shoes, ratchet their legs to full extension, paddling air toward their faces with flat palms. Tharp’s jaunty, fluid, and technically challenging vocabulary suits the company well.

With its fluttering flutes, heroic strings, and toreador-worthy finale, Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” has understandably been used by a number of choreographers. Alexei Ratmansky follows suit. His rendition contains many of his stylistic flourishes: dancers run onstage in quick, short steps and form an accumulating line; limbs pull in opposite directions, forming a pleasing elastic tension. And, as always, Ratmansky creates bonds between performers, small groups that move with or against a chorus. For example, when the magnetic Jeanette Delgado flirts with a male dancer, she is shadowed by a group of women, who then swarm the man—reminiscent of female choruses in legendary ballets like Swan Lake and Giselle.  

Costumes for Symphonic Dances, by Adeline André and Istvan Dohar, undergo three changes in the course of the ballet. The first section is marked by loose tees and long dresses; in the second, the women wear semi-transparent, gem-hued tulle gowns, while the men wear evening jackets with oversized gardenia boutonnières; and finally, in the last section, the women sport short white dresses with draped cowl necklines. In the ballroom scene, the women seem melancholy; they shield their faces with their arms and cluster together amid plangent harp music. The men, by contrast, exude strength, miming bow and arrows as they quickly spin and leap across the stage. In a lively finale, the ebullient Nathalia Arja fouettés, the women mime a snare drum line, and the men lie in humorous repose. All exit three-by-three in bravura leaps and thrilling grand allegro moves. It’s exhilarating, if a bit exhausting.

Nathalia Arja and Miami City Ballet dancers in Symphonic Dances by Alexei Ratmansky. Credit: Sasha Iziliaev.

This could also be said for Justin Peck’s new Heatscape, set to music by Bohuslav Martinů, with a Moorish geometric patterned backdrop by Shepard Fairey. Who could blame Peck for taking notes while dancing for Ratmansky in some of his finest ballets with the NYCB? Similarities are apparent in the inventive geometric formations and manipulations, the sense of community and relationships among the dancers (or narrative), musicality, and a contemporary sense of humor, all while essentially preserving the language of classical ballet.   

The dance begins (and ends) with a downstage sprint; then a flurry of intricate phrases ensues. Bodies spiral, coalesce and disperse. One man dashes through a crowd, which ripples like water. Motifs repeat: arms unfurl fern-like, dancers’ heads tip backwards, legs spear into arabesques. Later, Tricia Albertson and Kleber Rebello perform a wistful, romantic duet. She tries to leave, he restrains her; he circles his arms around her protectively but she appears caged. They eventually relax and lie back entwined, sitting up alertly at the hint of others. Albertson leads the women in a striking section in which they hop on point, arms overhead. The muscle-bound Andrei Chagas and Shimon Ito explode in eye-popping leaps and spins, Jennifer Lauren ultimately joining their frenetic cursive. In the final section, the dancers form nesting circles that unfold like a flower blooming, evocative of Busby Berkeley and Balanchine. Peck often creates phrases with stop and go dynamics, somewhat like the dot-dot-dash of morse code.

Balanchine’s Bourrée Fantasque (1949) closes out the program. The dancers radiate a cheeky, upbeat attitude in the first section, in which the women wear French-style costumes—black tutus with colored accents, headpieces, and lace fans. A smaller man partners with a tall woman with whom he is obviously smitten (particularly in regards to her legs), peeking out from behind her or awkwardly nestling her on his lap. There is an unrelenting emphasis on speed—the women run fast little circles around their partners, and everyone forms a multi-ringed carousel in a dazzling finale. The romantic part two features the much-missed ex-ABT soloist Simone Messmer, lush and expansive, dancing with Rainer Krenstetter. It would be interesting to see the Koch’s home company stage this piece in the near future. In the meantime, Miami City Ballet’s sparkling technique and richly rewarding repertory has left New York audiences craving more.


Susan Yung

SUSAN YUNG is a New York-based culture writer.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2016

All Issues