Words about Dance
April 30 – During their two night engagement at the Harris Theater, Miami City Ballet wastes no time in their debut at the venue. Two evenings are jam-packed with four Balanchine classics, of which the company is known for, and two new pieces, both commissioned specifically for the company.
On the second evening the company opens with Balanchine’s lush Serenade. Admittedly, as a Balanchine trained dancer who has performed this ballet as a student, under Jillana, former Balanchine ballerina, I was most excited about this work. At the end of the night, unfortunately this piece, as performed by Miami City Ballet, is simply a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. While this work will always cause a tingly excitement to swell in me (and Saturday night’s audience as well, as evidenced by the audible sigh when the curtain rose on the signature tableau of dancers in light blue, right arm up, hand flexed, shielding the sun from their eyes), certain key moments in the ballet were just slightly off, contributing to an underwhelming performance. Key moments of the ballet, and certain lifts were just lacking. An example of this comes in the “hair” moment, when a singular ballerina gets so “lost” in Balanchine’s swirling blue world that her hair comes down, trailing long on her shoulders. Unfortunately, this hair moment encountered a technical difficulty in the form of hairpins, and lost its power as the dancer struggled to pull her hair out of its bun, mid-chene turn. Serenade is one ballet that I always hold to the absolute highest standard, and while Miami City Ballet did a beautiful job with it, it fell just slightly below my stamp of approval. Something about those flowing blue tutus always haunts me though…
If Serenade was slightly underwhelming, Justin Peck’s new Heatscape was the exact opposite. This piece screams explosive energy. Set against the immense backdrop featuring larger-than-life artwork by well known artist Shepard Fairey, dancers seem electrified by bright lights, bright colors, and energetic expressions. At first, while I appreciate the large-scale of the beautiful art work, I wonder what it has to do with the dancing. As the piece wears on, however, it becomes more obvious that many of the formations, and even some of the specific steps are based off of the circular mandala shapes in the artwork. This work includes playful flicks of the feet, thrown arms, dropped weight, and flying lifts. Initially, the thrown nature of the movement has me wondering if the company is simply being sloppy, but as the work wears on, we see that Peck has developed a full vernacular of movement that is at once released and precise. While the movement does tow a fine line between fancy-free and sloppy, the overall effect is exciting, especially in comparison to the more subdued Serenade. Dancers slide about the stage, feet moving so quickly that sometimes I wonder if they’ve had a misstep, only to see that their tiny footwork has put them exactly where they need to be for the next sweep of movement. Standout moments in the work come in a middle section, finally slowing down a bit as lights darken, and the entire company creates a pyramid formation, weaving in and out of lines. Something about this large section of mostly unison is very satisfying compared to the busy, ever-moving majority of the work. In the third and final movement, soloists Andrei Chagas, Jeanette Delgado, and Shimon Ito absolutely dazzle. Jeanette Delgado’s presence on stage is mesmerizing as she carries her impressive lines with a grace and power that seem to naturally exist in her.
Last on the bill is my personal favorite, Balanchine’s Bourree Fantasque. Black tutus, chandeliers, and caricature acting combine to make this work distinctly Balanchine. The manner in which the Miami City Ballet performs this work, also steals the show though, managing to keep Balanchine’s signatures, but also transforming the work into an experience unique to this particular company. Chalk full of Balanchine’s complicated formation patterns, coy interactions, and flirtatious partnering, this ballet from 1949 should feel dated, especially considering the period costumes and set, but Miami City Ballet injects so much personality that this ballet is anything but old. Peck’s Heatscape left me wondering if the company might benefit from settling into that piece, performing it for a little longer, but Fantasque had the opposite effect as the dancers show an obvious comfort in having performed the work many times before.
The Saturday program has audiences cheerfully exiting the theater in masses after a rowdy standing ovation. Chicago audiences are now crossing their fingers that Miami City Ballet will grace our stages again soon.