Sunday, April 17, 2016

Miami City Ballet Paints the Town Red

Serenade by the MCB, photo @ Andrea Mohin

When out of town ballet companies that are not The Royal Ballet/Mariinsky/Bolshoi/Paris Opera Ballet tour NYC, the formula is often depressingly predictable. They book for a few performances at the Joyce/City Center/Theatre Formerly Known as State Theatre, they bring some modern works along with some Balanchine, they try their best, and the reaction of the NY audience is polite but distant. This makes the Miami City Ballet's tour to NYC this week all the more remarkable. They got the snotty "I saw SUZANNE do this" audience to stand up, scream, cheer. They not only exceeded expectations, they smashed them into smithereens. Miami City Ballet came to the Big Apple and painted the town red.

How did they do this? Simple. They picked ballets that highlighted their strengths and hid any weaknesses. The first thing you notice about the dancers is their incredible vigor. There are no "alabaster princesses" (as Mr. B called his muses) among the dancers -- almost all of them are like Energizer Bunny rabbits. The second thing you notice is that this is a company that embraces diversity. There aren't rows of corps girls who are alike in shape, build, and appearance. There is a great variety in height, body type, and yes, skin color. Rather than try to squeeze the dancers into a specific mold, it seems as if at MCB the differences are embraced. You have tiny little dynamo  Nathalia Artha burning up the stage side by side with stately veteran Jennifer Kronenberg. It's clear though that despite the diversity this company dances with a similar spirit and purpose, and sometimes that is just as effective as having a row of girls where every finger is held at the exact same angle.
I caught two programs, and both programs showed how shrewdly this whole trip was planned. Lourdes Lopez opened the tour with Serenade, that seminal Balanchine ballet that until now I had thought required incredible purity and a feeling of sisterhood among the famous 17 girls. MCB doesn't have that and probably never will -- it's not in their DNA to embrace architectural, geometrical shapes. You notice how wild the girls are -- their abandon reminded me of the Wilis. And then the soloists come on, and you realize that MCB hasn't changed the ballet's steps, but it is danced with a very different accent. For one, this becomes very clearly the story of the Waltz Girl (former ABT soloist Simone Messmer, making her role debut!) and her death.  Nathalia Artha (Russian Girl) dances up a storm, and Emily Bromberg (Dark Angel) has a quieter presence, but their antics seem like traps designed to pull Waltz Girl to her death. The whole ballet takes on a very sinister edge. Rainer Krenstetter hovered creepily over the fallen Waltz Girl's body like Death Spirit. The famous ending in which the Waltz Girl is carried offstage had a step that was given a very strong emphasis -- Messmer held a long, tender embrace with one of the girls before she was carried off. It was like Giselle embracing Albrect before she returns to her grave. Is this ur-text Balanchine? Probably not. But it was compelling, and Messmer was incredibly strong -- beautiful jump, rock-solid balances, expressive face. Messmer was a soloist whose career at ABT floundered until she finally packed her bags and left. So glad to see that she's found an artistic home in Miami. New York's loss, South Florida's gain.

Nathalia Arja in Symphonic Dances photo @ Alexander Izilaev

I admit I wasn't a fan of Ratmansky's Symphonic Dances -- as is often the case with Ratmansky he seems to be saying too much and too little at the same time. There's a vague nod to Soviet tractor ballets -- the first and third movements evoke the humble, hearty spirits of field peasants (although oddly dressed -- the guys in the third movement seem to be wearing bags over their heads), while the second movement is rather obviously the bored ballroom waltzing of the bourgeoisie. But the whole thing was too hyperactive to really make an impact -- the eye just saw overly busy steps. But again, the dancing was remarkable. Nathalia Arja received huge applause as the girl with the red dot -- she ended the ballet with a monster dive into the arms of a dancer (Kleber Rebello?) who carries her offstage. She was at all times the solo spitfire. Equally remarkable was Jeanette Delgado, another dancer who exemplified the "comrade peasant" spirit. It was their irrepressible energy that made Symphonic Dances appealing despite itself.

The second program again showcased the inexhaustible energy of this company. Justin Peck's Heatscape is set to the pounding music of Martinu's first piano concerto and as with a lot of Peck is notable more for its athleticism and vigor than truly memorable steps. But it's fun to watch. The beginning and ending reminded me of Peck's Rodeo, with the entire cast running towards the curtain. The middle movement (danced by Tricia Albertson and Kleber Rebello) was a hyperactive pas de deux with Rebello repeatedly throwing Albertson in the air when she's in arabesque position. Liam Scarlett's Viscera was considerably less portentous than anything else I've seen from him. There was structure and contrast in mood, and the music (Lowell Lieberman's Piano Concerto #1) had clear dancing beats . Scarlett himself designed the costumes and they were wonderful -- leotards, but made of thick velvet and full of deep reds and purples. The ballet is dominated by two contrasting dance styles -- the stately, serene veteran dancers Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra (retiring after this season) in their quiet duet vs. the turning, jumping ball of energy that is Jeanette Delgado. Delgado is one of those dancers who is so secure in her core that she can go off-balance on purpose without ever losing her balance, if that makes sense. I don't know if Viscera or Heatscape are really a great or even good ballets, but again, MCB dancers know how to sell their material.

Bourrée Fantasque, photo @ Renato Penteado

The program ended with Bourrée Fantasque, a gem of a Balanchine ballet that isn't currently in the New York City Ballet repertoire. Bourrée shows how much pop culture Balanchine was able to absorb and then insert into his classical ballets. The score by Emanuel Charbrier sounds like salon music. The first movement with a comically mismatched pair (the pint-sized Shimon Ito with the leggy Jordan-Elizabeth Long) reminded one of a vaudeville act. The pratfalls might have been too cute by half but the audience laughed. The second movement had Simone Messmer in the trademark Karinska-style tulle gown. When Balanchine brings out those long tulle gowns usually the mood is foreboding and ominous (think La Valse!). But the mood of the movement in Bourrée was showy rather than serious -- think big MGM "ballet" production number. The third movement was really an eleven-o-clock Broadway showstopper. Girls were hoofing, they were jumping joyfully across the stage in huge grande jetés, and, best of all, they repeatedly ran around the stage in a big happy circle. In the middle of this was again the irrepressible Nathalia Artha, this time with the charming Renato Penteado. Only Balanchine can do these ballet finales where the stage just seems flooded with joy. Why doesn't NYCB revive this? It's delightful.

MCB was Eddie Villela's brainchild and it still looks very much like Eddie's company -- the dancers have the same strength and many of them even have the same Eddie jump. The transition from Villela to Lourdes Lopez in 2012 was not smooth -- there were many bitter feelings, all played out in the press. But this tour to NYC shows the company is in good hands with Lopez. A few caveats: the women shone very brightly, the men less so. And all this raw power and energy is wonderful, but can they dance Petipa, or better yet, can they dance the "imperial" Balanchine pieces like Theme and Variations? I'd need to see this company more to make that judgment. But that's the point -- I want to see more of this company. Come back soon, MCB. You've already conquered NY.

2 comments:

  1. They did a very impressive run of T&V a couple of seasons ago. I saw J. Delgado on it and I think Alonso would had been proud of her rendition. I hope you will get to see Kleber Rebello's dancing. He is a short dancer but with the most marvelous batteries I have ever seen...very much a la Y. Soloviev.

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    1. I think Kleber Rebello was the guy who caught Nathalia Artha. Short, curly hair? Anyway the program was very confusing about who was actually dancing what. I had to keep going online during intermission to match faces with names. J. Delgado was amazing though! NY audiences loved her. Last night they clapped before she even danced a step.

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