Dance

A look back at Miami’s spectacular season of dance

Written By Guillermo Perez
January 2, 2024 at 5:27 PM

One of the highlights of the past dance season was Dance Now! Miami’s reconstruction of Gerard Arpino’s “The Relativity of Icarus.” Pictured are David Jewett (Ícaro) and Anthony Velázquez (Dédalo). (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

Janus, the two-faced Roman god looking in opposite directions—past and future balanced on his mythological shoulders—gives January its name. So, no better time than now to glance back at the bright lights of dance in 2023 and let those help guide the way through the months ahead.

What stands out from the performance calendar can defy any easy grading scale and bid us to put aside ready-made ribbons for best among shows.  Artistry is just that elusive, and various qualities vie at different times to prop up the noteworthy. In this realm of the soul and the senses—peace to our Top 10, list-making brains—perfection doesn’t always equal preference. And sometimes the least assuming calls for a superlative.

That comes to mind as dance programs approach and pass, and their promises for the remarkable—a brilliant revival, a ground-breaking premiere, performances fiery or delicately sublime—aim for the unforgettable. Blessed by Terpsichore, the hardworking Muse of Dance, some of those offerings actually are. Here, then, is recognition for deserving high-steppers in the march of days and dancing—hats off, too, for whatever else in the last year made other viewers’ hearts throb.

In the Jerome Robbins masterwork “Afternoon of a Faun,” Miami City Ballet’s pairing of Stanislav Olshanskyi and Dawn Atkins gave eternal resonance to every moment. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay)

Occasionally a whole work—its choreography, design, music, historical context, and, of course, interpretations—defies the finality of curtain calls. Think of the staying power of “Symphony in Three Movements,” the Balanchine masterwork sprung from the turmoil of WWII and a Stravinsky score, which surged forth from Miami City Ballet to close their season last spring. It was big, bold, and beautiful, certainly, but also unsettling—with off-kilter poses and jittery crisscrossing, its battalions of ballerinas (no matter how pretty in pink) as if on sniper duty, and alarm arising from the orchestra like fusillades.

From extreme angularities in partnering and killer attack en masse, Balanchine brought out a singular grace—that’s what they call genius—and opened choreographic passages his successors could further explore. Look for those trail scouts among the new works MCB and others have commissioned for upcoming programs. But for another, more concentrated dose of neo-classicism from the company in the Balanchine-Stravinsky vein, “Agon”—with its tests of physicality—awaits in March.

Having that kind of overall impact, through both teamwork and competition, is not just the province of ballet. Take two examples from eclectic contemporary dance, one from locals, another from visitors.  In July, Cuban choreographer-performer Beatriz Garcia premiered her “En Camino” at Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami. The title heralded the paths we take toward fulfillment, and this team of dancers like a flock of birds—sweeping by and soaring—still nest in our memory. Imported from South Korea by FUNDarte, Bereishit Dance Company arrived with their contact improvisation and martial arts one-upmanship—by turns silken and steely—not just staking the ground but making it quake.  DDTM will continue to harbor emerging choreographers and FUNDarte to bring us firecrackers from abroad.

Dance history also demanded attention in 2023. That was the year of Gerald Arpino’s birth centennial, celebrated across the U.S. by dance companies, and rightly so, given the made-in-the-USA trajectory of this Staten Island-born, West Coast trained-and-inspired creator who was based first in New York City and then Chicago. Any snobbery of European classicism was vigorously strained by him through pop culture, political activism, and frank eroticism. Both DDTM and Dance NOW! Miami raised the banner of his anniversary.

Chloe Freytag and Daniel White in Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami’s “Light Rain,” choreography by Gerald Arpino. (Photograph courtesy of Simon Soong)

Under researcher Cameron Basden’s guidance, DNM’s reconstruction of Arpino’s 1974 “The Relativity of Icarus,” as noted in the May issue of Dance Magazine, became nationally newsworthy. The work once ruffled critics’ for the homoerotic tenor of its version of Greek myth, with the high-flying youth of the title as a patricidal rebel. The dance emerged as a precious heirloom, its visceral craft shining as an antecedent to the non-normative explorations of our own time. Find those down the road in works like Pioneer Winter’s “DJ Apollo,” another novel treatment of mythology that portrays the aging Greek deity as tune-spinner in an Underworld leather bar.

Arpino’s “Light Rain” always puts DDTM is an exotic mood, but its passions come off as native to any lusty heart. In a company show last summer, tribal-like festivity in this signature piece gave way to vibrant, gloriously identifiable intimacy between Chloe Freytag and Daniel White. Leaning into each other, they let mutual touch travel on their bodies to take us to the place of our own fantasies.

Sometimes a pairing is so evocative that it’s all a ballet needs to be complete. Glowingly, that was the case with Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” when MCB’s Stanislav Olshanskyi and Dawn Atkins dreamily took the leads last spring. Their highly focused meeting in a studio—preening, probing looks and moves turned toward an imagined mirror—radiated from each minutely lived moment eternal cravings. In an earlier program from this company, the tenderness that was exchanged between Jordan Martinez and Alexander Kaden in Durante Verzola’s “Sentimiento,” to Ernesto Lecuona’s piano pieces, brought novel, much-needed freedom to love duet conventions.

Sara Baras presented her newest show, “Alma,” as the centerpiece of the Miami Flamenco Festival in March of 2023, a show that was first put on Dec. 17, 2021 at the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay)

One plus one makes deux in French, but pas de deux are just duets and their simple math equals multiple emotions in any dance language. Ahead lie many examples. There’ll be passion, both innocent and painful, in “Havisham!” via DNM’s feminist take on Dickens’ “Great Expectations”; fantasy in MCB’s tales of prince-meets-birdwoman, “Swan Lake” and “Firebird”; and, of course, the down-to-the mat struggles particular to many contemporary dance encounters.

Solos, too, make their mark in the roll call of notables. As much as singular talent and strong stage personality, a lone spotlight must reveal fierce love for the art form and, in sure-fire delivery, a willingness to pour that on the audience. From variations—when in ballet the man or the woman breaks off for an individual display—to the front and center hoopla of folk traditions, these will continue to bring the house down.

But already we’ve had Sara Baras to cherish at Flamenco Festival Miami. Though she came here with a full entourage of musicians and bailaores, it was the “just-her” transport of hammering heelwork and configurations that elevated the icon. Quieter, contained, the other end of the solo spectrum was to be found in December, appropriately at the Sanctuary of the Arts, when DNM’s David Jewett—like a pilgrim, a supplicant, in Hannah Baumgarten’s “Let It Go”—turned the stark-white stage area back into an altar. To a plaintive selection from a Robert Schumann song cycle (Opus 42-8), the arch of his body, his up-swung hands, fleshed out a memorial for human suffering and an invocation for justice and peace.

Y. Lebrun, P. Coker, X. Mack, and R. Maurice in Alvin Ailey’s “For ‘Bird’ – With Love.” The company comes to Miami for two performances at the Arsht Center on Friday, Feb. 2 and Saturday, Feb. 3. (Photo courtesy of Dario Calmese)

A prayer the whole world continues to need —whether from a lone performer or a whole company, the kind of spiritual uplift Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is sure to bring in early February to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center, notably in their rousing “Revelations.”  The company comes to the Arsht Center on Friday, Feb. 2 and Saturday, Feb. 3. For information and tickets, go to arshtcenter.org.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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