MCB’s ‘Fall Mix’ Features World Premiere By Miami native son Jamar Roberts
Hannah Fischer in “Serenade,” choreography by George Balanchine. © George Balanchine Trust, featured in Miami City Ballet’s season opener “Fall Mix,” opening Friday, Oct. 20 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Izilieav)
Before the dancing begins, Miami City Ballet’s programming involves a lot of moving parts. The company’s 2023-24 season premieres with Fall Mix in its hometown on Friday, Oct. 20, and listening to artistic director Lourdes Lopez break down her programming strategy is akin to the scene in the film “The Devil Wears Prada” when Runway editor Miranda Priestly traces the timeline of the cerulean blue fashion trend. (For the record, the similarities between them end there.)
It’s a fascinating peek into her process.
“Programming isn’t something I take lightly. I’m thinking of the dancers and the audience, so it’s very personal,” says Lopez, who’s further factoring in major shifts in both entities and playing COVID-19 catchup with a commissioned work that was thwarted during the shutdown. The work is finally having its world premiere three years later in Fall Mix.
Lopez’s original plan was to show new works commissioned by three rising choreographers together in the Spring 2020 program “Ablaze.” Juggling all parties’ schedules, she’s kept her promise piecemeal in presenting choreographer Durante Verzola’s “Sentimiento” last spring, and choreographer Claudia Schreier’s “The Source” in 2022.
Miami native and former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater member and Ailey’s first-ever resident choreographer Jamar Roberts, the final component of the trio, scratched his initial creation for an entirely new piece titled “Sea Change,” which is also set to different music.
“Jamar was the only one left,” says Lopez, who has seen his choreography through the Guggenheim New York’s “Works & Progress” performance series and its commissioned short video “Cooped,” which he made during the pandemic.
“I thought his film was extraordinary, and he’s a very gentle individual on stage,” says Lopez.
Roberts, a graduate of the New World School of the Arts in Miami, moved to New York in 2001 and first joined the Ailey company in 2002. Taking a break from rehearsal at MCB’s studios, he spoke about his homecoming and how he never got used to Miami’s heat, even as a kid growing up in the Goulds neighborhood.
Now, he says, he’ll put up with a little perspiration to lead master classes at Dance Empire of Miami, where, as a teenager, he discovered his talent, and mentor and chosen family in its artistic director Angel Fraser-Logan. He also drops by whenever he can to teach at her spinoff, eponymous dance company.
Roberts comes to MCB with a stacked résumé. He created “Gêmeos” for Ailey II and “Members Don’t Get Weary” for Alvin Ailey prior to his residency there from 2019-2022, which resulted in four additional works.
Courtesy of ArtSpeak (nee: Inspicio), which is sponsored by the FIU Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media in The College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts.
Past outside commissions and freelance gigs since going out on his own represent the pinnacle of the dance world: New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and BalletX are just a few of the companies in his portfolio. Though Roberts enjoys the freedom of being on the road and collaborating with different cultural institutions, he’s still adjusting to freelance life.
“During all those years at Ailey, I worked with dancers that I knew well. Now I’m with a new group of dancers every time,” says Roberts.
He didn’t know what to expect in collaborating with MCB, but said it’s been lovely working with its dancers.
“Sea Change” involves 12 dancers, divided equally between genders. Most of its choreography is an ensemble effort. Stressing the “effort” factor, he chose Minimalist composer John Adams’s 22-minute piano solo “Phrygian Gates” (1977) known for its punishing requirement of pianists.
“Adams called it ‘a behemoth,’” says Roberts, of its complicated rhythm that the composer and other musicians compare to electronics or waves progressing from ripples to rogues. “Usually there’s a times signature (that defines a beat) to build movement upon, but his score doesn’t hold a count for longer than 10 seconds.”
With the title “Sea Change” and wave-related music, a water theme was on Roberts’s mind. But it doesn’t relate to Miami’s bodies of water or vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise. He likened it more to a mood than a narrative as well as a portent of an emotional connection and collective turning point such as when a character cries or it rains during a film.
“It’s about the time we are in now,” says Roberts, regarding how the world is changing politically, socially and economically. “A new world is being born. Change is difficult, but we have to go through it to get to the other side.”
In addition to mastering the music’s wild ride, MCB dancers are learning how to move their bodies in a new language for his more contemporary choreography.
Lopez says the company is at a place where it can take risks in variety beyond its foundational repertoire by 20th-century choreographers, including George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, and believes there is a trust that’s ongoing and developing with its audience.
“They know that whatever it is, it will be top quality,” says Lopez.
The company is also in transition from the natural cycle of longtime dancers retiring, including principal turned rehearsal director Tricia Albertson. Dawn Atkins, Hannah Fischer and Chase Swatosh were promoted to principal, among many promotions for the 2023-24 season, and two dancers recently joined the corps de ballet.
The company first considers homegrown talent when making new hires; soloist Taylor Naturkas and corps de ballet dancer Francisco Schilereff are examples of products of MCB School who are performing in Fall Mix. The natural turnover and influx of youth affected Lopez’s programming decisions.
“Young dancers need to learn from older dancers, and I wanted to make sure those who have danced our repertoire works many times could relay the physical movement to the new dancers,” she says, of Fall Mix’s “Serenade” by Balanchine (1934) set to a Tchaikovsky score, and “In The Upper Room” by Tharp (1986), a mashup of movement from tap dancing to yoga with music by Philip Glass.
“Our seasons are short, so I tried to choose iconic works,” she says.
There’s more background to their inclusion. Tharp famously said no one does “In The Upper Room” like MCB, according to Lopez, while “Serenade” honors the 75th anniversary season of New York City Ballet cofounded by Balanchine in 1948.
Lopez and MCB founding artistic director Edward Villella were among the hundreds of NYCB’s present company and alumni who attended its tribute to dancers at Lincoln Center in September.
“Our season is also a celebration of Balanchine who shaped us,” says Lopez, featuring at least one of his works in every program save for choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s reimagined “Swan Lake,” which received glowing reviews for its MCB premiere last year and returns as the Spring 2024 finale.
WHAT: Miami City Ballet’s “Fall Mix”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 21; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4; 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach
COST: $39, $40, $79, $115, $189, depending on showtime and venue.
INFORMATION: 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org
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