Dance

Review: Miami City Ballet Enjoys Life with Balanchine, Daydreams with Robbins

Written By Orlando Taquechel
May 25, 2023 at 4:49 PM

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshansky in “Afternoon of a Faun,” choreography by Jerome Robbins, featured in Miami City Ballet’s closing program, “Entradas.” (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

Miami City Ballet (MCB) knows how to close a season with a bang along with allowing the chance to daydream.

With its recent “Entradas” program at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (Friday, May 19, Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21), the company and its artistic director Lourdes Lopez seem to have taken into account that we are in 2023 and that some escapism is what is needed in these times to soothe the soul.

That was precisely what happened in presentations at the Arsht where a beautiful trip to the past was promoted as “an entryway into the origins of American ballet through masterworks by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.”

Miami City Ballet dancers and Philip Kalmanovitch in George Balanchine’s “Square Dance.” (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

Ballet is fantasy, but it could also be a contemporary and down-to-earth artistic experience. On this occasion, a reimagined “Square Dance” (“with a touch of South Florida,” states the program), a war conflict that upsets the reading of “Afternoon of a Faun” and the presence of Cuban-born composer/conductor Tania León to lead the Opus One Orchestra, guaranteed the coming together of both.

León’s baton ensured that Balanchine’s “Square Dance” remained in memory also as a ballet by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; that “Afternoon of a Faun” and “Antique Epigraphs” -both by Robbins- would be fully appreciated as the most exquisite Claude Debussy and that “Symphony in Three Movements” exploded like an Igor Stravinsky brand of fireworks.

But as an experienced conductor, she knows that the main objective of the orchestra in a dance performance is to make the music and the dancers become one, making the things invisible in the former become visible to the audience in the latter. So, she delivered with ineffable humanity to the task, transforming it into something personal and allowing for the feelings of each note and each musical passage waft over the audience like a pure breeze. The outcome was an extravagant event that both enchanted and eluded any sort of criticism.

The first work of the evening’s program was “Square Dance.” Contributing to the communicative effectiveness of the new staging was Montana Levi Blanco with costume designs. Rudi Goblen punctuated new command voices marinated in Spanglish, and the Miami-based British-Canadian baritone Philip Kalmanovitch served as the caller.

Philip Kalmanovitch as the caller in George Balanchine’s “Square Dance.” (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

There were no changes in the demanding choreography, which the dancers executed efficiently while the music, too, is well known. Still, it was Kalmanovitch -tall and charismatic- who earned absolute recognition. From his first appearance, his beautiful voice and gentle approach to the role he created the connection of “Square Dance” with the Miami audience.

At first, there was an occasional doubtful smile, but once he shouted “¡fuácata!” -a Cubanism that imitates the sound a coup makes- there was no turning back. The Arsht Center was alll his, and he was there to share it with the dancers.

In this “Square Dance,” everything that is said counts. Little by little, it became evident that the inclusion of some words in Spanish was not a joke or a gimmick but a natural redefinition of what it means to be an American in South Florida.

Taylor Naturkas and Alexander Peters in George Balanchine’s “Square Dance.” (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

The whole piece progressed smoothly, and each section was greeted with loving applause and a warm ovation at the end, which included an extra proscenium appearance by the charming Taylor Naturkas and Alexander Peters, accompanied by Kalmanovitch.

In summary, “Square Dance” was a beautiful gift for Miami but also a contribution to the legacy of Balanchine -a successful first-generation immigrant like Lourdes and Tania- who, looking down from his VIP seat on the Mount Olympus of great choreographers, must be extremely happy and still looking for a way to let us know his approval.

After the first intermission, “Afternoon of a Faun” and “Antique Epigraphs” were next.

The first featured Ukrainian dancer Stanislav Olshansky in the leading role. Olshansky has been with MCB since last year.

In the piece, something worries Olshansky beyond how he looks in the mirror, and it is impossible to ignore that this solitary faun in a rehearsal room is an artist who has to leave outside his country now, due to a Russian invasion. A fact that links him to another great Ukrainian dancer, Igor Youskevitch (1912 – 1994), whose family fled the Russian Revolution around 1920.

But the resemblance does not end there; everything indicates that it may be a matter of Ukrainian lineage.

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshansky in “Afternoon of a Faun,” choreography by Jerome Robbins. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

Like Youskevitch, Olshansky is a handsome dancer with an Apollonian face, slim torso, small waist, broad shoulders, and erect bearing. And he is – again, like Youskevitch – a Partenaire of steely nobility.

Dawn Atkins was the ideal vision to keep Olshansky company. Her beauty was almost unreal in her harmony, and in her performance, the absence of movement created the same value as silence in music.

Together, they took the entire Arsht Center audience away into their world during the 11 minutes run time of “Afternoon of a Faun.”

Hanna Fisher, Petra Love, Alaina Andersen, Madison McDonough, and Elle Grocki in “Antique Epigraphs,” choreography by Jerome Robbins. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

After a brief pause, a similar effect was produced by the eight delicate dancers (Hannah Fisher, Samantha Hope Galler, Ashley Knox, and Taylos Naturkas, accompanied by Alaina Andersen, Ellen Grocki, Petra Love, and Madison McDonough), who evoked with haunting infallibility the sculptures in bas-relief from Ancient Greece in “Antique Epigraphs,” and flutist Karen Fuller, who helped them consolidate what we will never forget as a beautiful enchantment.

It is worth noting that Lourdes López stood out as one of the “Antique Epigraphs” soloists in her years as a dancer with the New York City Ballet.

Miami City Ballet dancers in George Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements.” (Photo courtesy of Daniel Azoulay/Miami City Ballet)

A final intermission brought Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements,” a piece for 32 dancers that keeps everyone on the edge of their seats, climaxes in a thrilling group, and without a doubt receives a thunderous ovation as the curtain falls.

Among the soloists, Tricia Albertson and Renan Cerdeiro were magnificent. But all the participants deserve praise because each assumed their role as if they were minute mechanisms that move tirelessly inside a clock that never make a mistake when announcing the hour.

Like all Miami City Ballet’s seasons closings, this one was infallible.

To find out about Miami City Ballet’s upcoming season, go to miamicityballet.org

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