Dance

Miami City Ballet’s Spring Mix Tends A Garden of Dance Delights

Written By Guillermo Perez
March 4, 2024 at 11:54 PM

Francisco Schilereff in rehearsal for Miami City Ballet’s “Delight,” a world premiere by Ricardo Amarante, part of the company’s “Spring Mix,” opening Friday, March 8 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev.)

There’s always reason to expect considerable delights from Miami City Ballet—in a returning repertory masterwork or an intriguing premiere, in the authority of long-admired principals or the revelation of budding talents. And now a company commission puts those best expectations directly in the title.

“Delight,” from Brazilian choreographer Ricardo Amarante, is part of “Spring Mix,” MCB’s third program this season, opening at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami on Friday, March 8 with shows through Sunday, March 10. Then, the company heads to West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for three shows on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 .

The company’s spirited exploration of new territory also gains distance in “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” Alonzo King’s journey of the soul, bodies as polished and powerful vehicles running on Indian tabla music, Miguel Frasconi’s pulsating sounds, and Miriam Makeba, the 2000 work now debuting at MCB. George Balanchine’s “Agon,” a test of focus, strength, and pliability to Stravinsky—intense and indispensable since 1957—will be a repeat for some cast members and an initiation for others.

Miami City Ballet dancers Lily Maulsby and Ella Titus rehearse Ricardo Amarante’s “Delight.” (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Among noteworthy heirs to that back-then freshly brewed neoclassicism, still as eye-opening as this morning’s first cup of coffee, Amarante stirs his own piquant spice into “Delight,” meaning to energize. “My ballets are always filled with emotions. And I like the public to feel those,” says Amarante. “In this company the dancers can move quite fast, so I wanted to bring that excitement in something really uplifting.”

The title came naturally to him in word play: those swiftly moving figures in the light charge the mind with lasting impressions of delight. And, fundamental to Amarante’s purpose, the music looms large.

Despite his love for the classical canon, he insists that—from his first creations, when he danced with Belgium’s Royal Ballet of Flanders, to more recent commissions that have kept him busy from Atlanta to Latvia—his tastes have remained eclectic.

Choreographer Ricardo Amarante rehearsing “Delight,” making its world premiere as part of Miami City Ballet’s “Spring Mix.” (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

Early on there was tango for the sultry “A Fuego Lento” and later French passion surged from Edith Piaf for “Love Fear Loss.” Twentieth-century concert masterworks and original scores have also fueled his imagination, much of his repertory developing in Kazakhstan’s Astana Ballet, where as artistic director for seven years he enjoyed unqualified support and success.

“But this is the first time I’m going to work with Bach,” reveals the choreographer about his choice of the Baroque master’s Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D minor.  “The music is quite animated in the first and last movements, and really touching in the middle. It comes with the right instructions. The composer creates his own little story, and that’s nice because it gives me a lot of inspiration.”

 After MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez approached Amarante about the project, the discussion turned to finding the right score. Several considerations, including the need for the ballet to close the evening, led to the Bach concerto, its insistent stream of crystal declarations sure to let the company orchestra bring on the bravura.

“It’s fast, with lots of changes. And I could see a lot of patterns,” says the choreographer, describing the challenge he wanted to hand the dancers.

Katia Carranza, shown with Cameron Catazaro rehearsing “Delight,” is retiring from the company. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

For principal Katia Carranza, to be partnered by the princely Cameron Catazaro, among three lead couples, that’s the stimulus she still looks for even at this venerable stage of her nearly 30-year career. “It’s always a treat to do new things,” she confesses, having danced plenty of premieres by younger choreographers in recent seasons. “True, Ricardo’s choreography can be a challenge. We have some off-balance partnering and very quick changes. Plus, all of us get to dance a lot. But we’ve been able to keep up a good pace because of his energy and temperament.”

Not only the leads but also the 12 demi-soloists, in six pairs, get steady stage time for these restless statements. “Whether in pirouettes or the angles we take, we get to do movements at an extreme,” adds the ballerina, glad to show off those thrilling skills along with her colleagues.

What further makes this fly, says Carranza, is Amarante’s deftness as an instructor. “When he’s setting movements, he’s always ready to demonstrate himself, and”—here she lets out a laugh —“I always get a kick out of the sounds he makes—he wows, he roars—and through those you get a better sense of what he wants. Most important for us dancers, he’s always checking in on us—say, in transitions—so even through difficult steps we don’t get stuck.”

Choreographer Alonzo King works with dancer Satoki Habuchi in “Following the Subtle Current Upstream.” (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

The result is clarity and—as Carranza underscores—a sense of safety that makes the dance more enjoyable. She announces there’s no better way for her to bid farewell to the stage than with this premiere; this will be her last program as she’s retiring from the company. That shows the curiosity that’s been the hallmark of her career, exceptional not just for its longevity but for her charisma and artistic grace.

The way Amarante has sparked the ballerina’s enthusiasm may be related to his having transitioned from an active performance schedule to full-time choreography still in his 30s. And if you ask the 43-year-old what makes him so disposed to chasing big moves—that surge of emotion—he doesn’t hesitate to answer:  “For sure, it’s my personality but also my nationality. Everything in Brazil is over the top, really dramatic. And I like that—to go to the theater and come away with strong feelings.” Add to this, on his list of special delights, carnival in Rio, with its colorful explosion of sounds and sights.

The choreographer moreover recognizes the value of his early training in Brazil and on scholarship stays in Cuba and English National Ballet. “Those experiences left me what I carry today,” he says. “In Cuba, I learned about male technique. And a passion for acting. In England, I polished up my work in the definition of steps.”

Miami City Ballet Dancers in “Agon.” Choreography by George Balanchine. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

His ensuing career continued to be instructive—through the refined productions at Paris Opera Ballet and the wide-ranging classicism at the more intimate Jeune Ballet de France.  And at Royal Ballet of Flanders, Amarante had the advantage of learning choreographies directly from many contemporary dancemakers.

That’s an opportunity MCB corps member Francisco Schilereff can appreciate. Rehearsing all three ballets in Spring Mix, the 24-year-old has treasured direct guidance from choreographers King and Amarante. Of course, in climbing an artistic peak like Balanchine’s “Agon,” with its tricky counts and exacting calibrations, he’s also found reward, honoring a legacy.

But in “Following the Subtle Current Upstream” King’s voice, bringing references to fire, earth, and water, led Schilereff to deep layers as a dancer.  “The most important things I took from him were finding my own narrative and asking where the movement comes from.” His interpretation thus became more organic.

Hannah Fischer rehearsing “Following the Subtle Current Upstream.” Choreography by Alonzo King. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev)

 “Even though each piece here is so different,” says Schilereff, “I think you grow more aware going from one to another.” And in “Delight” there’s connection in the call for authenticity.

 “Ricardo always reminds us to be ourselves,” says the dancer. “Yes, he likes everything to be grand. But he also wants to see you in this as a person.”

Deriving his own delight from the experience, Schilereff puts it within a larger context. “Knowledge is everywhere. I love traveling, seeing new cultures, exploring a spectrum of things,” he says. He points to his leap of faith in leaving home in Argentina as a teenager to train in ballet in the United States.

“Choreographers come with dances for us to discover, and we take those and put in our little grains of salt.” And, for him, that brings the satisfaction life is all about.

WHAT:  Miami City Ballet’s “Spring Mix”

 WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10

 WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

 INFORMATION: 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org

 ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES: Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and 1 p.m., Sunday, March 24

COST:  $39, $40, $79, $115, $189, depending on show time and venue.

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