Review: With summer dance performances in slumber, International Ballet Festival heats up scene

Written By Sean Erwin
August 24, 2023 at 6:06 PM

Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida principals, Mary Carmen Catoya and Daniel Panameno dance the duet “Vertigo.” (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

The International Ballet Festival of Miami capped off a month of dance-related performances, workshops, book talks and documentary movies with Gala performances at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium featuring some of the world’s top classical companies.

The Saturday, Aug. 12 Grand Classical Gala Performance showcased nine classical dance companies from six countries including Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida (United States), Unblanche (Japan), Compania Nacional de Dance (Mexico), Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (United States), Milwaukee Ballet (United States), Teatro Massimo di Palermo (Italy), Incolballet (Colombia), Varna State Opera Ballet (Bulgaria) and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (United States).

Compañia Nacional de Danza (Mexico) principals Mayuko Nijei and Eric Rodriguez dance Marius Petipa’s “Swan Lake.” (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

Packed with audience favorites of classical and neo-classical ballet, the program featured exceptional dancing and a warmly enthusiastic audience who were often caught up in rousing applause and up on their feet.

Eriberto Jimenez, IBFM Artistic Director, opened the evening by presenting the Festival’s “Life for Dance Award” to Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida Artistic Director, Vladimir Issaev.

A short documentary described the choreographer’s mind-blowing journey from his birthplace in Biszk, Siberia to dance companies in Kyrgystan, Odessa, and Caracas before founding ABTF in South Florida in 1997.

His wife and ABTF Executive Director, Ruby Romero-Issaev, accepted the award on the choreographer’s behalf who was detained in Hong Kong after coming down with COVID.

The dancing began with ABTF’s reprisal of the “Vertigo” pas de deux choreographed by Issaev featuring principal dancers, Mary Carmen Catoya and Daniel Panameno performing to the music of Bernard Hermann.

Catoya in black dress and Panameno in white shirt and black pants were both strong in the passionate duet.  Panameno pressed Catayoa repeatedly overhead or floated her in splits the length of the stage before ending the piece with the ballerina making slow, poignant turns.

Mexico’s Compañía Nacional de Danza was an evening highlight presenting choreographer Marius Petipa’s Act II pas de deux from his 1895 ballet “Swan Lake” and performed on Saturday by MCND principals, Mayuko Nijei and Erick Rodriguez.

The Petipa duet features Prince Siegfried (Rodriguez) out hunting swans at night.  When the swans reveal themselves to be young women, Siegfried professes his love for their Queen, Odette (Nijei).

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principals Hannah Carter and Lucius Kirst dance George Balanchine’s “Diamonds.” (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

In the pas de deux, Odette expresses her gradual acceptance of the prince.  Rodriguez in brown tunic and gray tights and Nijei in white performed the duet exceptionally well with Nijei communicating birdlike delicacy through her arm movements. Rodriguez accompanied her with precision whether supporting Nijei in lifts or turning her in arabesque.

Where most of the evening’s performances were excerpts from neo-classical and classical works, local company Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami mixed things up with “Ser” (“Being”) – a 2018 contemporary dance piece choreographed by Beatriz Garcia and set to music by Ezio Bosso.

CCBM dancers Beatriz Garcia, Daniela Cepero and Armando Brydson delivered electric performances accompanied by Bozzo’s driving, minimalist score with athletic sequences that had the three dancers rolling through an imaginative choreography packed with surprises.

In one sequence, the dancers began from a crouch before pivoting as a group and making a wave up their torsos that sent their arms high and gave them the impetus to spin and collapse back into a crouch.

Ruby Romero-Issaev receives “A Life for Dance Award” on behalf of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida Artistic Director, Vladimir Issaev, from David Camorlinga, left, and IBFM Artistic Director, Eriberto Jimenez, right. (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

The rousing shouts from the audience signaling their approval showed that CCBM clearly struck a chord with the hometown audience.

Dancers Nicole Nathalia Duque and Andres Felipe Vargas of the Columbian dance company, “Incolballet,” were spectacular dancing the Act II pas de deux of the 1841 ballet “Giselle”  – choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

The pas de deux features Count Albrecht (Vargas) reunited with his beloved Giselle (Duque) whom he betrayed at the altar.  In the scene Giselle has just returned from death as a “Wili” – a ghost of a vengeful young woman who is stood up on her wedding day.

It can be challenging for modern audiences to connect with a ballet such as “Giselle” whose monochromatic values portray women as either the helpless victims of men or vengeful spirits out to lure them to their doom, but Duque and Vargas connected on Saturday with a breathtaking performance.

Duque in white bodice and full-length white dress opened the scene generating an illusion of weightlessness by sending gentle waves down her shoulders to her fingers before rising up into an arabesque that she turned full circle with slight pivots of her standing leg.

Duque moved liquidly from one position to the next supported by Vargas in black top and tights who then snapped out some eye-popping double turns and kicks of his own.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Hannah Carter and Lucius Kirst helped to close out the evening program with  “Diamonds” – the third act of New York City Ballet artistic director and choreographer George Balanchine’s 1967 “Jewels.”

Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami’s Beatriz Garcia, Daniela Cepero and Armando Brydson in Beatriz Garcia’s “Ser.” (Photo courtesy of Simon Soong)

Performing to music excepted from composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major (Op. 29), the couple glittered in white in a demanding and severe work that has been called Balanchine’s salute to the Imperial pomp of his homeland Russia.

Carter opened en pointe slowly lifting one leg overhead using Kirst’s offered hand as support before threading that lifted leg back down and twisting it up and behind her as she fell forward into a deeply bent forward arabesque.

From start to conclusion, Carter and Kirst brought to this Balanchine classic both precision and a sense of connectedness with one another that allowed the lushness of the movement and music to shine through.

The IBFM is important to Miami’s dance calendar as a reminder of the city’s historical roots in the Cuban classical dance tradition.  However, it also shows that the city’s dance programming extends beyond the yearly arrival and departure of snowbirds and that Miami is a city that supports yearlong serious dance teachers, performers and institutions as well as audiences who want to encourage and enjoy dance.

The International Ballet Festival of Miami is held every year in South Florida from the last week of July through mid-August. 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

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