MCB: Program III’s Roaring Opening
The audience at Miami City Ballet’s opening night of Program III could barely contain themselves. Before the curtain had closed on each of the ballets presented, a roar of voices and shouts of “bravo!” erupted from the house. Three-part programming typically saves the crowd-pleaser for the end; last night, however, the supposedly light opening and meaty middle caused the greatest sensations. Perhaps the quality of dancing transcended the expectations for the choreography. Miami City Ballet boasts an impressive range of not only what it takes on—that is, its repertory selection—but also what it executes expertly. The ballet company looked as grounded and faithful to Paul Taylor’s precise movement language as bona fide modern dancers in “Promethean Fire,” second on the program. They pushed themselves over the edges of balance and reserve in Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” the closer, while capturing the fine textures of each duet. Known as a Balanchine company because of the late choreographer’s direct influence on one of his former New York City Ballet principal dancers and Miami City Ballet’s artistic director, Edward Villella, and because many of the MCB dancers trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, it’s natural that the program’s first ballet, “Scotch Symphony,” would be danced well. Remarkably, though, the company doesn’t employ “Balanchine” as a sweeping generalization. The choreographer’s signature crisp footwork was in place, as were his detailed musical syncopations. But the company didn’t dance “Scotch,” from 1952, with high-flying leg extensions characteristic of some of Balanchine’s modernistic leotard ballets, or with loose, stylistic arm and wrist flourishes that evolved in later decades at the New York City Ballet. Just as Balanchine looked back to the tulle skirts and sylph-driven dramas of Romantic ballet when choreographing “Scotch,” MCB demonstrated contained and rounded arm positions of 19th-century ballet, sideways sways moving in one piece upwards from the waist owing to an historical era in which corsets restricted women’s movement, and valuation of soft clarity over pert sharpness throughout. Individual dancers shined on many fronts. Katia Carranza and Renato Penteado appropriately underplayed the flirtation of ethereal and corporeal as the principal couple in “Scotch,” then nearly blew the gold-swirl ceiling off the Ziff Ballet Opera House with their dynamism in their “Sinatra” duet, “That’s Life.” Leigh-Ann Esty’s lofty jumps, legible footwork, and lively, sweet countenance as the first movement’s soloist in “Scotch” read to the edges of the house. In the central duet of “Promethean Fire,” the stately but gentle Yann Trividic graciously partnered Tricia Albertson, who communicated the complex fragility and resiliency that can emerge in the aftermath of tragedy. (“Promethean,” a rigidly formal structure brimming with emotional tension, is believed to be Taylor’s response to the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001.) Miami City Ballet’s dancers feature strengths of all kinds and, to some degree, differently advantageous forms. Still, they moved as one when called to do so in “Promethean Fire,” subjugating their distinctive qualities and personalities in service to the architecture of the work, whose successful reception depended on their willingness and ability to do so. “Sinatra” features some notoriously tricky partnering, aggravated by high heels and occasionally switching gender roles as a woman supports a man by promenading him in a vulnerable position. In certain moments, such as Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg’s climb over her partner Trividic’s back as he squats forward in “One for My Baby,” the look of labor is intentional. A few trouble spots (unintentional) indicate “Sinatra” keeps its dancers challenged and its audiences watching intently almost 30 years after its premiere. The large disco ball, “Sinatra”’s only set piece, obscured some sightlines with its frequent and powerful reflections of light, causing more than one viewer to use his program as a shield. Live music of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony with Gary Sheldon conducting the Opus One Orchestra at an unhurried pace supported the ballet’s easy appeal. Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral transcriptions of Bach, taped, boomed by comparison. Almost as loudly as the supporters cheered. Program III at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach; March 4 through 6. Visit MCB’s box office (2200 Liberty Ave., Miami Beach) Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., call 305-929-7010, or visit miamicityballet.org.