Miami City Ballet winningly showcases diverse styles in season opener

By Lawrence Budmen


Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra in Jerome Robbins' "Afternoon of a Faun." Photo: Joe Gato

Miami City Ballet’s opening program of the season found the company in top form on Friday night at Miami’s Arsht Center. Following this summer’s highly successful performances in Paris and the recent announcement of founding artistic director Edward Villella’s retirement in 2013, this program summarized the high standards and versatility that have been the hallmark of MCB’s first quarter century. A literal cavalcade of diverse choreographic styles and aesthetics, the four short, contrasting works showcased the dancers’ ability to encompass a wide balletic spectrum.

George Balanchine’s Square Dance is a clever, brilliantly imaginative synthesis of classical ballet and the traditional American square dance, accompanied by the Baroque figurations of Vivaldi and Corelli. In the ballet’s original 1957 incarnation, Balanchine actually had a caller on stage providing a verbal commentary on the dance steps. In his 1976 revival for New York City Ballet, the choreographer omitted the caller and added a moody, evocative solo for the principal male dancer, taking the ballet to an elevated level of neo-Classicism.

The MCB corps de ballet’s snappy, precise performance reflected these dancers’ deep immersion in Balanchine’s singular idiom. Jeanette Delgado’s speed and musicality in the principal ballerina role were a constant source of delight. Renan Cerdeiro, one of the company’s young up-and-coming dancers, was less satisfactory as the male protagonist. Clearly a gifted and accurate performer, Cerdeiro seemed disconnected from the ballet’s emotional core, whether in the sadness of the male solo or the joy of the ensemble dances. At this point Cerdeiro appeared to be concentrating on executing the intricate patterns and steps. Hopefully, greater expressive freedom will come with experience. Gary Sheldon led an accurate, well rehearsed string ensemble in stylish musical underpinnings, the final Gigue appropriately bouncy and spirited.

Jerome Robbins’ 1953 Afternoon of a Faun reinvents Debussy’s evocation of the Mallarme poem as the meeting of two dancers in a studio. Robbins’ spare choreography with the suggestion of sensuality lurking beneath the surface of basic studio exercises contrasts sharply with the gossamer impressionism of Debussy’s music. The company’s star duo of Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Miguel Guerra propelled this unique pas de deux masterfully. Her movements sleek and sensual, Kronenberg’s every phrase was exquisitely placed. As the dancer fixated on his image in the studio mirrors, Guerra was magnetic, his steps seemingly improvisatory. Recalling the classic collaboration in this piece of Villella and Patricia McBride, the effect was magical. The recreation of Jean Rosenthal’s original confined studio setting and Irene Sharaff’s costumes enhanced the Robbins’ absorbing balletic vignette.

British-born choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is one of the dance world’s most talented contemporary artists. Liturgy, originally conceived in 2003 for New York City Ballet, is Wheeldon’s powerful setting of Arvo Part’s Fratres. Wheeldon’s movement vocabulary is light years removed from Petipa’s elegant nineteenth-century creations. Bridging the divide between classical ballet and modern dance, Wheeldon has conceived a boldly original, wildly modernist duo that is true to the moving, spiritual core of Part’s music.

Katia Carranza is one of MCB’s best principal ballerinas and she has been underutilized in recent seasons. Carranza sailed through the difficult choreography, her beauty of line and grace the shining core of this uplifting masterpiece. With Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez a superb partner exuding reserves of strength, Carranza’s superb pointe work and angular flexibility carried this mini dance drama to exalted heights. Concertmaster Bogumila Zgraja splendidly encompassed Part’s edgy solo writing and Sheldon brought austere reverence to this uniquely serene minimalist score.

The choreographic career of Twyla Tharp has been a strange journey from brilliant early settings of Haydn and Bach and fanciful showbiz extravaganzas to 1940’s big band music and the songs of Frank Sinatra to sterile adventures in rock and minimalist genres. Not surprisingly, Tharp has created numerous music videos in recent decades.

In the Upper Room, originally created for her now defunct troupe in 1986, has been danced by numerous international companies including the Bolshoi Ballet. While not on the level of Tharp’s quirky early ballets from the 1970’s, In the Upper Room is one of her better later pieces. Tharp effectively matches kinetic, nonstop rapid movement to Phillip Glass’ pulsating original score. Often the stage is filled with dancers, their individual steps seemingly unrelated but filling out a broader canvas.

This work is an ensemble tour de force and the large contingent of dancers were dazzling in what clearly was an exhausting piece. Kronenberg always stands out when she is on stage and she was terrific in Tharp’s high-energy moves; but this is an ensemble ballet and the entire company delivered the goods. Aside from the Las Vegas-style smoke in the opening sequence, Jennifer Tipton’s atmospheric lighting and Norma Kamali’s bright costumes were as sharp and evocative as Tharp’s explosive choreography and Glass’  throbbing rhythms.

Miami City Ballet repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Arsht Center in Miami;  October 28-30 at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale and December 9-11 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. 305-929-7010;

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Sat Oct 22, 2011
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