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A world premiere always comes with a drum roll. And, throughout the years, Miami City Ballet has brought to light its fair share of resounding new works. Still, Brian Brooks’ freshly-minted One Line Drawn, on the company’s third program this season, raises special expectations.
As a modern dance choreographer, with an eclectic background and his own well-regarded New York company, Brooks gives MCB an exceptional opportunity to diversify its repertory and enrich its dancers with an unorthodox way of moving.
“Rehearsals have been challenging, in counts and the intricacy of the patterns,” says company soloist Ashley Knox. “We keep pushing and pulling—off balance, reaching out fast, not upright. This keeps quite a quick pace!”
But, keenly alert, the ballerina came to understand the language, devoting to it her classically fine-tuned body. “It’s very exciting to be a part of this,” she now recognizes. “Not knowing exactly the final effect kept us motivated to stay true to the visualizations Brian gave us.”
Although he’d long admired MCB, the choreographer knew his work would take the dancers out of their comfort zone. “If they were nervous about this project,” he says, “I must admit I was, too. But the second I stepped into the studio, this feeling began to dissipate as I saw we were all on the same page.Everyone was full of curiosity and hope. I trusted their work ethic, athleticism, and rigor.”
What makes this match between performers and dance-maker especially noteworthy is that it arose from a remarkable joining of forces. In 2016 Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance named Brooks its first choreographer-in-residence, a position usually held in dance companies and not venues. Over a three-year period funding covers Brooks’ salary and production costs for works created by him for his and other dance groups headed for the Harris. This is meant to amplify the national profile of the theater, the choreographer, and the chosen dance companies. The arrangement has already yielded Prelude for the Brian Brooks Moving Company and Terrain for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
As a repository of centuries-honored balletic values, MCB might have put Brooks on alien ground. But he’s even used the pointe-shoe skills of the ballerinas to articulate his concepts. And he discovered that the fundamental qualities which draw him to the cast of 16 dancers curiously connect to one of his early beacons, boundary-defying Elizabeth Streb, with whose group he once toured to Miami.
“I loved Streb’s daring physicality and authenticity of action—how present her dancers were in their bodies. Her idea about anything being possible stuck with me,” says the choreographer, who admires the parallel commitment of the men and women in One Line Drawn.
“Brian’s work is cerebral,” says principal soloist Alexander Peters. “We had to take command of the experience and figure out how to navigate it.Everyone participated as an equal.”
The dance cuts across gender and company rank, including unisex partnering on an even-leveled performance field. That inclusiveness gave confidence to Helen Ruiz, a corps de ballet member, who ventured into this with only her classical know-how. “While I was struggling to learn the choreography, I’d come home exhausted,” she says, having been tested in mind and muscles. “But eventually it was cool to see I was capable of so much more.”
Starting with intensive rehearsals in August, the dancers built on base movements, assembling and extending phrases—finding a novel approach, as Peters puts it, in “how we use energy, go through space, and relate to each other.”
Brooks explains, “I create all my dances on my own body and so come up with the steps. What follows is similar to fractals. There’s a splitting of patterns, which keep getting smaller. Then I edit—a lot!—rearranging material into dozens of variations. The parameters become tighter. But the process is not linear.”
Fundamentally, the movement is driven by the arms. “The rest of the body is caught in this momentum,” Brooks says, “and the feet follow.”
And the choreography maintains discourse with the music. For One Line Drawn Brooks feels fortunate to have a live orchestra perform a commissioned score by Michael Gordon, a Miami Beach native who co-founded famed new music organization Bang on a Can.
“For decades I’ve thought Michael’s music is up in the stratosphere,” says Brooks. “It has such propulsion it always opens a new lens for me. The score drew out the essence of the dance.”
The layered sounds of Gordon’s composition further sparked Peters’ enthusiasm. “It’s very satisfying to do movement that requires a different kind of listening,” he says.
The value of this project, however, goes beyond artistic accomplishment.“I’d already been drawn to the feeling of family in the company,” says Peters, still in his first season with MCB. “But Brian’s piece has solidified it.”
One Line Drawn opens alongside Balanchine’s expansive Theme and Variations, to Tchaikovsky, and The Concert, a Jerome Robbins comic romp.
If you go
What: Miami City Ballet, Program Three
Where: The Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd.
When: February 9 through 11, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Info: Tickets $25 to $105, www.miamicityballet.org
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