Miami’s International Ballet Festival Attracting Top Dance Companies

Written By Sean Erwin
July 17, 2023 at 5:51 PM

Milwaukee Ballet dancers, Marize Fumero and Arionel Vargas, will perform at the International Ballet Festival of Miami’s Gala performances, Saturday, Aug. 12 and Sunday, Aug. 13 at the Miami Dade County Auditorium. (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

For decades, Cuba has produced some of the world’s top ballet dancers.  Greats like Alicia Alonso – founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba – to American Ballet Theatre principal Xiomara Reyes, San Francisco Ballet principal, Lorena Feijóo, and English National Ballet principal, Alejandro Virelles who all trace their beginnings to the island.

Miami’s dance scene has long been the benefactor of its tight links with the island country and the esteem Cubans have for classical dance.

Cuban dancer, teacher and choreographer, Pedro Pablo Peña, arrived in Miami from Cuba in 1983 and, at once, got busy contributing his expertise to the city’s dance scene.

Washington Ballet dancers Katherine Barkman and Jorge Oscar Sanchez strike an arabesque penché. (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

Pooling the talents of local and exiled dance artists, he founded Creation Ballet the same year.

In 1996, he founded the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) attracting to South Florida dance luminaries from North and South America, Europe and Asia for two performances at the Miami Dade County Auditorium.

Dancer and choreographer, Eriberto Jimenez, was there at Peña’s side right from the start.

“In 1989, Mr. Pedro Pablo Pena offered me a scholarship to study at his dance studio and to dance with his company that at that time was named Creation Ballet,” says Jimenez.  “Since then I started helping him with the office work as a volunteer, and I became more involved with the institution not only as a dancer.”

When Peña died in March 2018, Jimenez was the obvious choice to fill the role of the festival’s artistic director.

“ . . .The board thought that the only person that could continue his legacy (would) be me since I had been there from the beginning, knew the administrative work and was also part of the artistic team,” says Jimenez.

Since stepping into leadership, Jimenez has pressed forward with innovations such as a community dance program at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, outdoor performances at Lincoln Road, and a non-competitive Dance Marathon.

This year’s 28th festival features art exhibits, book presentations, a film series, dance workshops, master classes, an international summer dance intensive for students and performances in Miami, South Miami, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

The growing reputation of the IBFM has also attracted talented ballet companies and principal dancers from throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia.

At right, current International Ballet Festival of Miami Artistic Director, Eriberto Jimenez, recalls that the IBFM board thought he was the only person to continue the legacy of the festival founder, Pedro Pablo Peña, who died in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Phillipe Obregon and Simon Soong)

As a result of Jimenez’s efforts, the 28th festival showcases 11 classical dance companies from six countries including Ballet do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Varna State Opera Ballet (Bulgaria) Incolballet (Colombia), Teatro Massimo di Palermo (Italy), Unblanche (Japan), and United States dance companies including, Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, Milwaukee Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and The Washington Ballet.

Marize Fumero was born in Havana and trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba.  She danced with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the English National Ballet before becoming a Leading Artist in 2015 with the Milwaukee Ballet.

For Fumero, the IBFM’s value lies in its international recognition as a global destination for talented classical dancers.

“Dance is infused with aesthetic principles that distinguish it from other forms of art, which directly influence the cultural heritage of a community,” says Fumero.  “This is exactly the type of path that IBFM has created within the North American dance world and beyond.”

One fresh feature of the festival is its recent inclusion of contemporary dance in the line-up.  This year, dance companies from France, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Switzerland and the United States are part of the contemporary program.

The decision to broaden the scope was a way for greater inclusivity, according to Jimenez.

Arles Youth Ballet Company featuring dancers Diana Brandao and Maxence Deveaux in a pas de deux. (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

“(We) decided to create a weekend of only contemporary dance companies and another weekend for the classical ballet companies,” says Jimenez.

“Hopefully in the future we might include (even more) styles of dance,” he says.

Each year the festival awards two prizes to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of dance.

Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami dancers, Beatriz Garcia and Armando Brydson. (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

“A Life for Dance Award” honors the achievements of ballet dancers, choreographers and directors.  Past recipients of the award include dance legends such as Edward Villela, Miami City Ballet founder and New York City Ballet star, Alberto Alonso, artistic director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba,  and Roland Petit, French choreographer, dancer and director.

This year’s recipient of the award, Vladimir Issaev, has been singled out for his work as founder and artistic director of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida and the Miami International Ballet Competition.

The “Criticism and Culture of Ballet Award” honors the work of national and international dance critics.

Past recipients have included former New York Times dance critic, Anna Kisselgoff (2009), Dance Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jennifer Stahl (2018), and former Nuevo Herald critic, author and current ArtburstMiami Spanish Editor, Orlando Taquechel (2014).

This year’s recipient is  Rosario Manzanos, dance critic, columnist and journalist for the Mexican newspaper, Excélsior.

“It was a huge honor to be considered among important dance critics such as Clive Barnes, Roger Salas, and Anna Kisselgoff,” responded Taquechel when asked about the award.  “It was also a very nice surprise because I was the first local dance critic recognized by IBFM.”

There are two free performances including Contemporary Performance on the Streets, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3, at Euclid Circle on Euclid Avenue and Lincoln Lane on Miami Beach, and the other, IBFM at City Centre, at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 11, at the Brickell City Center’s Garden Deck on the second floor, 701 S. Miami Ave., Miami.

Jimenez says the free performances allow anyone access to see dancers from different parts of the world who have come to Miami.

“Every year South Florida has the opportunity to receive dance companies that have never performed before in the United States,” he says, “and local companies are able to share the stage with dancers from abroad.”

Contemporary Performances

WHAT: Performance I

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4

WHERE: Miami Dade College, North Campus, Lehman Theater, 11380 NW 27th St., Miami

COST: $30.75 includes service fee


WHAT: Performance II

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5

WHERE: Dennis C. Moss Cultural Center, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay

COST: $30 -$40


WHAT: Performance III

WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 6

WHERE: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Amaturo Theater, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale

COST: $35 and $45


Classical Performances

WHAT AND WHEN: Program III: Grand Classical Gala, 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, and Festival Closing Gala of the Stars, 5 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 13

WHERE: Miami Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W Flagler St., Miami

COST: $35, $45, $55 and $65

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