Dance

Review: Miami City Ballet, in all its splendor as a contemporary ballet company

Written By Orlando Taquechel
March 15, 2024 at 1:43 PM

Miami City Ballet dancers in “Delight,” world premiere by Ricardo Amarante. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

After offering three highly successful performances of its “Spring Mix” program at Miami’s Arsht CenterMiami City Ballet (MCB), under the artistic direction of Lourdes López, is now ready to conquer the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, 24.

The same contemporary ballet works will be presented there: “Agon” by George Balanchine, “Following the Subtle Current Upstream” by Alonzo King, and “Delight” by Ricardo Amarante. The first premiered in 1957, the second in 2000, and the third on the program’s opening night at the Arsht Center.

Stanislav Olshanskyi and Dawn Atkins in “Agon,” choreography by George Balanchine. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

Many theorists and historians still debate the best definition of contemporary ballet. Some do so by establishing its differences from classical ballet. Others claim that any ballet created at one moment should be considered contemporary ballet for its audience.

The freshness of MCB’s young performers solves the problem by delivering a performance where virtuosity is second nature. The interpretation lacks the mannerisms acquired by experience, and all are committed to the shared discovery of their understanding of dance.

“Agon,” the Balanchine work that opens the program, features original music by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1992-1971) and has been part of the MCB repertoire since 1995. The program notes describe it as “a tour of force set to an innovative Stravinsky score that features twelve dancers creating mesmerizing movements as they gather in pairs, trios, and quartets.”

Rui Cruz in “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” choreography by Alonzo King. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

After the first intermission, the company presented “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” created by King and featuring recorded music by Zakir Hussain, Miguel Frasconi, and Miriam Makeba.

MCB includes in the program notes a definition in the choreographer’s own words (“a piece about returning to joy”), adding that the work “reflects the bustling waves of life and reminds us that everything in Nature seeks to return to its origin.”

Miami City Ballet dancers in “Delight,” choreography by Ricardo Amarante. From left to right, Ariel Rose, Damián Zamorano, Cameron Catazzaro, Samantha Hope Galler, Francisco Schilereff and Harrison Monaco. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

After a second intermission, the program finalized with the world premiere of Amarante’s “Delight,” inspired by the well-known Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

The notes to the program do not say much about the work and concentrate on presenting Amarante as someone “known for creating passionate works” recognized by the public and international critics.

It doesn’t matter what the notes mentioned above say—describing works without a plot is always a thankless task—because we are faced with a program in which reality far exceeds any elegantly written presentation. As soon as the curtain opens, you recognize the futility of effort.

MCB’s dancers brilliantly approach the Balanchine style without undermining the beautiful patina of time that covers it and remind us how unscathed “Agon” has survived the passing of the years. Next, they take on King’s modus operandi as an existential statement of versatility.

Nathalia Arja, Alexander Peters, and Ashley Knox in “Agon,” choreography by George Balanchine. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

Performing Amarante’s work, they insinuate that Bach’s music could have been used here to express life always in the present tense, giving the baroque and the academic a brand-new cultural connotation.

Nothing prepares the viewer for the splendor exuded by Miami City Ballet’s heyday. Now, a group at the climax of its consolidation process as a contemporary ballet company that transmits with ineffable serenity the certainty of its achievements, which seem to accumulate at dizzying speed.

We must recognize the efforts of Lourdes López in the artistic direction to conquer them and Juan José Escalante in the general direction to facilitate the process. The highly encouraging results are also evident in how their dancers illustrate the ideas that inhabit the most diverse choreographic language.

Exquisite performers like Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi, always ready to offer what is perfectly appropriate, arouse deep admiration in “Agon” for the sophisticated magnetism they project with absolute emotional self-control.

Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi in “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” choreography by Alonzo King. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

In “Following the Subtle Current Upstream,” the lines that seem to extend beyond the physical limits in King reach in the extremities of Francisco Schilereff, the category of unprecedented expressive discovery.

Rui Cruz’s performance enhances the choreographic proposal due to the authenticity of his motivations, and as soloists, Dawn Atkins and Stanislav Olshanskyi stand out – once again – destined to establish themselves as the most attractive couple in MCB.

“Delight” is a pretext for the joy of Amarante’s daring choreographic slang, where adagio means “keep it cool.” Conceived with a welcome stylistic directness, using the linking movements with dazzling mastery, and divided into three sections, “Delight” works perfectly as an entertainment offering and is excellent as a closing performance.

It is difficult to highlight the individual performances in “Delight” without feeling that justice has not been done to the rest of the participants. However, Taylor Naturkas’ complacent exuberance gives the impression of being the most eloquent capture of the choreographer’s intentions. There is also a solid partnership between Ashley Knox and Renan Cerdeiro.

Ashley Knox and Renan Cordeiro in “Delight,” choreography by Ricardo Amarante. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet)

For a second time – the first was to applaud King’s work – the audience at the Arsht Center rose from their seats at the end of “Delight” and rewarded the entire cast – the superb pianist Ciro Foderé included – with an applause that seemed destined not to stop.

MCB harmonized tastes and merits like an authentic miracle worker with “Spring Mix,” an unforgettable and significant artistic achievement.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com.

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