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Miami City Ballet Has Proven its Mettle

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
02/11/2011 -  & February 12*, 13*, 2011
George Balanchine: Scotch Symphony
Paul Taylor: Promethean Fire
Twyla Tharp: Nine Sinatra Songs

Tricia Albertson, Mary Carmen Catoya, Katia Carranza, Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Renato Penteado, Yann Trividic, Haiyan Wu (principal dancers), Didier Bramaz, Renan Cedeiro, Jennifer Lauren, Callie Manning, Yang Zou (soloists), and corps de ballet
Opus One Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (Conductor)
Arnold Abramson, Santo Loquasto (Scenic Design), Karinska David Folkes, Santo Loquasto, Oscar de la Renta (Costume Design), John Hall, Jennifer Tipton (Lighting Design)

M. C. Catoya & R. Penteado (© Miami City Ballet)

Miami City Ballet has become world famous. This is easy to understand after seeing two performances of the season’s third program. Works by Balanchine, Taylor and Tharp on the same bill require details not possible for most troupes. The centerpiece of this program is Paul Taylor’s masterwork Promethean Fire (music from J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor). Miami City Ballet is the first company outside of Taylor’s own to attempt it. This work is a perfect fit now that MCB has matured; perhaps just five years ago the company would have lacked the ability to make the attempt. Now in its 25th season the dancers are able to approach the choreography with a confidence that moves the audience in a way that is not always easy with unfamiliar abstract works. The principals and soloists are better than ever. And the corps matches the stunning work.

The program mentions that the events of 9/11 are what inspired Taylor to create Promethean Fire. Regardless, what is presented is not a literal telling of the events of that day. Taylor begins by giving us an orderly world; one that moves quickly and with purpose. But Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor leads us eventually to the horrific. It could be the bombing of the World Trade Center, maybe a war or a natural disaster but what makes this so moving is that Taylor uses Bach to find hope. Throughout, we see the ensemble rushing though maintaining a sense of essential cooperation. At the end of the chaos, the magnificent Yann Trividic lifts his partner out of a pile of human rubble like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes. Perhaps this ending is obvious, but there is no denying its power.

The next movement presents Trividic and his partner (the lovely Mary Carmen Catoya on 2/12 and the soulful Tricia Albertson on 2/13) as a struggling couple. This most accessible movement ends with a reconciliation again giving hope. The last movement serves as an opportunity to resurrect order with the dancers eventually ending in the same positions in which they started. This is a big work. MCB’s enormous success will undoubtedly encourage other companies to tackle it. And though this work is Paul Taylor’s, it seems credible that there are moments when he is offering a homage to Martha Graham. Vocabulary from “Heretic”, “Steps in the Street”, and “Diversion of Angels” whisper at appropriate moments; there is a consistent fascination with the floor. Rebirth is continuous throughout Promethean Fire and it is clear that Taylor has a need to remind us of what has come before him. It is an unselfish and most honorable act.

The program opened with Scotch Symphony (Music from Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor) by George Balanchine. With Balanchine’s brilliance, just a simple assembly of dancers in front of a backdrop of a Scottish castle creates audible gasps. Though not a traditional story ballet, Scotch Symphony opens with a celebration that is soon kicked off into higher gear with the entrance of a sprightly lass, the spunky Sarah Esty on 2/12 followed by the effervescent Leigh-Ann Esty on 2/13. Our hero (the dashingly masculine Renato Peneteado on 2/12 and a less mature though no less commanding Renan Cerdeiro on 2/13) enters and is soon entranced by a sylph (the ephemeral Katia Carranza on 2/12 and the more worldly Tricia Albertson, who performed in all three works on 2/13). Patterns and lines of elegance never stop in this happy curtain raiser set to Mendelssohn’s familiar symphony beautifully played by Opus One Orchestra under the sensitive conducting of Gary Sheldon. The audience was prepared for what was to follow.

Twyla Tharp drew attention in the late 1960s and continues to create, even premiering new works at Miami City Ballet. Companies throughout the world present her works regularly. Tharp often mentions that she believes that all vocabularies must be available. Then why is Nine Sinatra Songs (Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Antonio De Vita, Bert Kaempfert, Jimmy Van Heusen, C. Carson Parks, Sonny Burke, Dean Kay, Kelly Gordon, Paul Anka) so repetitious and uninteresting? Sure, we get an apache dance with “That’s Life.” But were it not for the Ice Capades costumes, most of the others would look the same. When “My Way” segues into the second half and is again used in the finale, the image is one of a sink full of unwashed dishes. Lots of arbitrary color served with Frank’s beautiful voice but no definition. The order and line of Taylor and Balanchine are evident nowhere. Repetition seems to be the Tharp style. And Miami City Ballet dancers seem uncomfortable with it. They give 150%, much of which requires extra facial gestures, because the choreography just doesn’t offer anything. Ballroom dance requires elegance and romance; this is not given in Nine Sinatra Songs. And why is it so difficult when as long as you are going to borrow anyway, you can just look at how simple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made it look on screen?

And though Nine Sinatra Songs is not satisfying theatre, Miami City Ballet is wise to offer it as the closing. Several years ago, this inconsequential piece was placed on the middle of a program making one wonder the direction of the company. But by sticking to the glory of Balanchine and by allowing great works like Promethean Fire to become part of the standard repertoire, the future of this company is limitless.

Jeff Haller



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