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Miami City Ballet

This is a ballet company that has to spend much more time in New York.

Nathalia Arja and Miami City Ballet dancers in a scene from Alexei Ratmansky’s “Symphonic Dances” (Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev)

Nathalia Arja and Miami City Ballet dancers in a scene from Alexei Ratmansky’s “Symphonic Dances” (Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

I cannot remember the last time a ballet company so completely blew me away as the Miami City Ballet did during its recent, depressingly short season at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center.  The explosive metaphor is entirely apt.

This is a stylish classical ballet troupe that is definitely a company whether they are   dancing works by Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp or George Balanchine.  They exude a lushness of style that allows them all to be individuals, yet cohere into an exciting artistic unit.

It is the Balanchine tradition that informs this company.   Now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, the troupe was first directed by New York City Ballet star Edward Villella who imbued it with the Balanchine spirit and technique.  Now another NYCB alumna, Lourdes Lopez has ably taken over the reins.

Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter in a scene from Miami City Ballet’s production of Balanchine’s “Serenade” (Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev)

Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter in a scene from Miami City Ballet’s production of Balanchine’s “Serenade” (Photo credit: Sasha Iziliaev)

Opening night began with a luminous, wind-swept production of Balanchine’s “Serenade” to Tchaikovsky.  His first ballet in America, choreographed to show off the students of his ballet academy, “Serenade” has its academic aspects which are subsumed into the utter joy of filling a stage with sweeping movements and just the hint of an adolescent romantic tragedy.   The cool blue, diaphanous costumes by Karinska, still impress, particularly in the opening moments as the curtain rises on an expectant group of young ladies in cool, blue light (designed by John Hall).

Soloists Simone Messmer, Nathalia Arja, Emily Bromberg and their swains Rainer Krenstetter and Chase Swatosh were not only letter perfect but musical and—can I say it?—sexy!

Sexy, for better or worse, is the best word to describe the two performances I saw.  They turned Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements” to the Stravinsky work into a romp, overcoming the extraordinary technical and musical demands with elan.  From its exquisite opening image of the diagonal line of sixteen young, pony-tailed women in white leotards to the complex intertwining of the soloists against ever-shifting lines of dancers, the MCB performers were totally there, enjoying the challenges and, even better, enjoying the interactions with each other, whether it was the angular lifts, wittily semaphore arm gestures or the extraordinary musical demands of the mind-blowingly ingenious choreography which played with and against the bright, edgy music.

The three lead couples have to be complimented for their daring and wit:  Nathalia Arja, Kleber Rebello, Patricia Delgado, Renan Cerdeiro, Ashley Knox and Jovani Furlan. They found all the freshness in “Symphony in Three Movements.”

Miami City Ballet dancers in a scene from Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields” (Photo credit: Daniel Azoulay)

Miami City Ballet dancers in a scene from Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields” (Photo credit: Daniel Azoulay)

Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields” choreographed to beautifully sung Shaker hymns, also had a freshness.  Her choreography misses the sexual frustration of this religious group, but her stage pictures are constantly fascinating.

Dressed in Norma Kamali’s chic—very un-Shaker!—loose white outfits, the dancers took to Tharp’s detailed gestures (loose hands, bobbing heads) and came across as a little community celebrating themselves.   Most impressive was the all-male section, “Chesterfield,” in which the six men, a funeral entourage, carried in a body.  With virtuoso, acrobatic panache, the body was replaced several times by other dancers as they trooped across the stage.  This witty commentary on death was both moving and beautiful.  Perhaps the dancers missed some of Tharp’s edgier qualities, but the overall effect was lovely.

Ratmansky’s new “Symphonic Dances” to the Rachmaninoff score was a rich, full-bodied sweeping work which took advantage of the company’s fathomless stores of energy and technique.  Dressed in costumes by Adeline André and Istvan Dohar which ranged from simple, loose peasant outfits to colorful gowns and witty formal wear, the dancers pounded their way through Ratmansky’s ever-changing palette of classical steps shaped by plasticity and a feel for the innate drama of the lush music.  There was romance, camaraderie, acrobatic lifts, speedy steps all ending in a coup de theatre that brought the audience to its feet.  This was Ratmansky at his robust best:  musical, complicated and demanding.

Mark Stanley’s exquisite lighting for “Dances” made the Koch stage a dramatically charged space.

The New York City Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Gary Sheldon, provided superb accompaniment and support throughout.

Miami City Ballet (April 13-17, 2016)

David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-496-0600 or visit http://www.davidhkochtheater.com

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (234 Articles)
<p>JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.</p>

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