REVIEW: Arts Ballet Theatre Opens Season with Compelling Story of Love and Revolution

Written By Sean Erwin
October 15, 2023 at 2:32 PM

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida takes a final bow at the close of choreographer Vladimir Issaev’s new work, “Inspired by Love,” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. Additional performances are at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center on Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15. (Photo courtesy of @patriciasphotography)

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida opened its 2023-24 season with a program of two audience favorites, ABTF artistic director and choreographer Vladimir Issaev’s “The Four Seasons,” and South Florida choreographer, Yanis Pikieris’, colorful neo-classical ballet, “Danzón.” The evening also featured the world premiere of Issaev’s narrative ballet, “Inspired by Love,” based on love letters exchanged between South American freedom fighters, Manuela Sáenz and Simon Bolívar.

Fresh off earning the prestigious “A Life for Dance” lifetime achievement award from the International Ballet Festival of Miami in August, Issaev’s two works on the program and the quality of the ABTF dancing offered clear evidence on Saturday as to why he deserved the distinction.

Program I , “Classical and Neoclassical Ballets,” was performed on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts Amaturo Theater with upcoming performances at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center.

Dancers Saaya Okada and Peter Azevedo perform the “L’Hiver” pas de deux during choreographer Vladimir Issaev’s “The Four Seasons.” (Photo courtesy of @patriciasphotography)

Issaev’s “The Four Seasons” is a strict classical ballet composed of four pas de deux and set to a gorgeous excerpt from Sicilian composer, Giuseppe Verdi’s 1855 opera, “Les vêpres siciliennes” (“The Sicilian Vespers”).

The ballet itself is the product of a 2016 commission Issaev received from Altynay Asylmuratova, the former director of the elite Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg.

The couples dancing on Saturday were Saaya Okada and Peter Azevedo dressed in blue as Winter, Kanon Murakami and Yoichi Habaguchi in orange as Spring, Kanau Shiina and Daniel Panameño in purple as Summer, along with Moegi Matsuzawa and Clarence Wong in sage as Fall.

Each of the couples impressively navigated the technical challenges posed by the sequences.

However, the youth and energy of Murakami and Habaguchi also brought Verdi’s music to life during the “Le Printemps” (“Spring”) pas de deux.

Habaguchi carefully supported Murakami through lifts and turns as Murakami captured the music in her solo with her upper body, alternating between sweeping arm movements and light gestures of her hands and fingers.

Their pas de deux also contained moments of humor.  At several points, Murakami ran at Hagabuchi from the corner of the stage, took a hop then threw herself into his arms.

ABTF dancers Kanon Murakami and José Luis Pechené perform a pas de deux during choreographer Yanis Pikieris’, “Danzón” (Photo courtesy of @patriciasphotography)

The second work was “Danzón,” which was originally created in 2007 for Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey by South Florida choreographer Yanis Pikieris. He is currently co-artistic director of the Miami Youth Ballet School with spouse, Marielena Mencia.

“Danzón” is a neo-classical ballet set to Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s 1994 work, “Danzón No. 2.”

Pikieris’ work is jazzy and lyrical with sensual passages for the women and athletic sequences for the men.

The piece opened with Sara Marlin, Louise Rigby and Kirsty Walker dressed in red.  Their bare arms fanned wide before they kicked back into a lunge tipped forward into an arabesque in time to a clarinet solo and soft Latin beat tapped out on wood blocks.

The tempo picked up and they were joined by dancers Zoard Szabo, Clarence Wong, and Ian Gonzalez who circled the three ballerinas and then supported them through deep back bends and lifts.

In “Danzón” the male dancers frequently upstage the women with great turning leaps that sail across the floor and end with scissoring kicks or lunges.

Among the men, Yoichi Habaguchi, José Pechené and Daniel Panameño turned in powerful performances on Saturday.

Pikieris’ “Danzón” consistently figures as an audience favorite and judging by the enthusiastic response at the close of the work, Saturday’s ABTF performance was no exception.

As the final piece, there was the unveiling of Issaev’s new narrative ballet, “Inspired by Love,” based on love letters exchanged between South American revolutionaries Manuela Sáenz and Simon Bolívar between 1822 and 1830.

Principal dancers Mary Carmen Catoya and José Luis Pechené perform the roles of Manuela Sáenz and Simon Bolívar in “Inspired by Love.” (Photo courtesy of @patriciasphotography)

Issaev set the music to excerpts from two stirring works by Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero – the award-winning soundtrack to the film, “La Epopeya de Bolívar” (“The Epic of Bolivar”) and his waltz, “Quinta Arauco.”

On Saturday ABTF Prima Ballerina Mary Carmen Catoya performed the role of Sáenz while José Luis Pechené danced the role of Bolívar.

Both Catoya and Pechené brought the Sáenz-Bolívar love story to life.

Catoya’s shifts in posture and the movements of her shoulders, arms and hands accented Romero’s music or clearly pantomimed her emotions as her lower body executed difficult sequences.

Pechené partnered Catoya masterfully while effortlessly snapping out athletic spins and jetés during his solos.

However, the strengths of Issaev’s ballet were most pronounced when the choreography contrasted dance styles, costuming (both style and color), and music to highlight the tensions of colonial South America during the wars of liberation.

For instance, Issaev set the ballet in a European-style ballroom.   In one scene eight couples circled one another, dancing a waltz – the men in dark blue military tunics and women in pastel Spanish dresses.

With a shift in the music, four women – Kanon Murakami, Kanau Shiina, Yuzuka Matsumoto and Suzuka Matsumoto – entered in long orange dresses, arms overhead, seizing the center of the stage with sequences of rapid footwork as they performed an indigenous Venezuelan dance – the “Joropo” – animated by a lively melody line from Romero’s score.

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida performs the world premiere of choreographer Vladimir Issaev’s work, “Inspired by Love.” (Photo courtesy of @patriciasphotography)

The four would repeat this “intervention” at other moments of the ballet.

The elements and execution of the scene, from the costuming to the music, established the balletic equivalent of the tensions at work between a resistance movement and a colonial occupier.

Where Issaev’s choreography powerfully expresses the political and social tensions of the Liberation movement and the love affair between Sáenz and Bolívar, it does pull back at one point – it reduces the character of Sáenz to that of a simple woman in love.

This notably left unexplored the enigmatic figure of Sáenz herself, a trailblazing feminist icon who was devoted to the South American liberation movement before encountering Bolívar and who used their love affair to advance her own considerable military and political ambitions.

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida continues its season with “The Nutcracker,” at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10. at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center, and 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at The Parker, 707 NE 8th St., Fort Lauderdale.

WHAT: Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida’s Program I: “Classical and Neoclassical Ballets”

WHERE: Aventura Arts and Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Oct. 15. 


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