Review: Dancers stellar, but Miami City Ballet program fails to satisfy

Posted: 5:07 p.m. Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Miami City Ballet brings consistently high-quality dancing and world-class choreography to South Florida audiences. The company’s Program Three, running through Feb. 26 at the Kravis Center, is no exception, at least in regards to the dancing. The dancers perform with their usual brilliance and stunning clarity. The program, however, is uneven at best.

The company opened the evening with George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, a brilliant work made in 1980 for the New York City Ballet. This beautiful, lively romp reveals Balanchine at the peak of his powers, able to show masterfully dense, musically sophisticated choreography.

The premise, simply, is beautiful — virtuosic dance set in motion to incidental music from Charles Gounod’s Faust. The work opens with 24 women, a soloist and a principal couple working through the paces of what, on the surface, appears to be a standard neoclassical ballet.

As the music gets progressively more and more abandoned, wild and free, we see the dancers quite literally let their hair down. By the finale, hair, legs and raucous spirits are flying at breakneck speed, engulfing the stage. What makes this work even more masterful is that it never crosses over into kitsch or camp.

Polyphonia

Christopher Wheeldon is rightfully one of the most popular and talented choreographers working in ballet today. It’s unfortunate that his ballet Polyphonia — the second work of the evening — does not reflect that fact.

Polyphonia is one of those non-descript contemporary ballets that could have been made by any one of several chorographers working today. Its pared down aesthetic and, at times, borderline misogynistic partnering are dry, cliché and a pretentious thin soup.

Miami City Ballet would do well to find a better ballet created by Wheeldon.

The Fairy’s Kiss

The third work on the program was The Fairy’s Kiss, a new ballet by the wildly popular choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.

While this ballet has all the trappings of a successful new work — beautiful score, lighting, costumes and décor — it never really finds its feet. It struggles from the very opening, trying very hard to force across the patchy narrative of the libretto.

The ballet teeters back and forth between overly simplistic play acting and oddly crowded, busy ensemble.

The ballet ends in a vague, disconnected ritual of bodies, somehow attempting to illustrate an even more obtuse metaphor about the nature of life. This ballet, while at times beautiful to look at, is vague and unfulfilled as a piece of theater.

Review: Visually stunning ‘What the Day Owes to the Night’ lacks some theatrics

Posted: 3:07 p.m. Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Not until he became an adult was French contemporary choreographer Herve Koubi shown a photograph of his grandfather: a man dressed in flowing Algerian garb somewhere on the other side of the Mediterranean from his native Cannes. And so began Koubi’s journey to create his 2013 dance work What the Day Owes to the Night.

Presented Tuesday at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, this is a poetic and virtuosic meditation concerning the pull of cultures toward each other; clashing and supporting as they move on a journey toward a spiritual place of serenity.

It is a full-length work for an extraordinary ensemble of 12 male dancers — Koubi’s “found brothers”— hailing from Algeria and Burkina Faso.

What the Day Owes to the Night revolves around 10 or so tableaux. Each has an arc that mirrors a day — brilliantly lit by Lionel Buzonie — starting with a murky, hazy dusk reaching heated afternoons and fading into contemplative nights. In one of the middle tableaux, rapturous choral music by Bach culminates in bodies being flung — nay, launched — high into space and then lovingly caught, cradled as they fall to the earth. The enduring themes are reaching to the heavens, embracing and assisting one’s neighbor, flinging and running as a clan, and gently observing as others work their way on the journey of mutual transcendence.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the work is its vocabulary, a deft mix of hip-hop, Capoeira, break dance and gymnastics. This work gives no nod to any Western classical dance mode. The men spin, flip, lift and throw each other with a death-defying grace and brilliance not frequently seen in Western theater.

If the work has any weakness it that this dance is so packed full of virtuosic movement that it never really advances as a work of theater. The beginning, middle and the end of the work are largely the same. While the work is wonderfully performed and choreographed, it suffers from a lack of overall theatrical progression.

But it is visually and kinetically stunning dance that offers a unique vision of two worlds reaching for each other.

Joffrey Ballet brings new dances to Kravis Center

Posted: 4:00 p.m. Monday, March 14, 2016

The Joffrey Ballet lived up to its image Saturday of offering interesting and exciting dance works.

The dances presented as part of the company’s Kravis Center performance included works by Justin Peck, Nicolas Blanc, Myles Thatcher and Christopher Wheeldon. All are first-rate examples of the type of new work happening in the ballet world today.

Perhaps the clearest and most original work on the program was Peck’s In Creases, a work originally made for the New York City Ballet in 2012. In brief, Peck is one of the most original and talented choreographers to have emerged in the ballet world in the last 20 years. He is a gifted phrase maker, moving bodies around and through the space as no one else creating dance does today. In Creases is a chunky work. It presents its seams and welds for the entire world to see, while reveling in the glorious intricacies of its own construction.

Blanc’s Rendez-vous is one of those “more tricks per square inch of music” ballets. It is not a bad dance in itself, but perhaps its placement on the program makes it seem a tad insignificant. What saves it from being a high-end dance competition number is the wonderfully weighted and precise dancing by Cara Marie Gary and Alberto Velazquez.

Thatcher’s Passengers, a new piece made for the Joffrey this season, is a beautiful and challenging dance theater work. It is a sad 1940s triptych, exquisitely danced, beautifully lit and intelligently costumed. Full of vague, implied narrative vignettes, this work is viscerally stunning from beginning to end. Thatcher is a talented young choreographer who promises much more.

The program closed with Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise, a stark and deeply sad work that somehow still has the audience leave the theater uplifted. Wheeldon moves the audience into and out of one painfully sublime scene to the next. Fool’s Paradise is clearly the work of a master choreographer taking his time to investigate lonely and anguished terrain. Few ballets have this much pure visual beauty per second.

The dancers of the Joffrey are fierce and smoldering technicians. They move with the liquid flexion of cats, eating up space like few classical companies can. They are also gracious and thoughtful performers. The aesthetic platform laid out by founder Robert Joffrey all those years ago is still the artistic backbone of the company today.

Miami City Ballet shows great artistic range in witty, romantic dances

Posted: 2:38 p.m. Saturday, January 30, 2016

As South Floridians, we have quite a bit to be thankful for — the greatest weather going, beautiful flora and fauna and, of course, the beach. And let’s not forget the world-class ballet company Miami City Ballet.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary season, Miami City Ballet presents Program Two at the Kravis Center with a powerhouse program of three works: George Balanchine’s La Source, Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room.

The company shows great artistic range, deft direction and curatorial savvy. It also doesn’t hurt to see a packed house give a well-deserved standing ovation.

As a dance-maker, Balanchine remains without peer. His work is literally as close to perfect as it gets. La Source is Balanchine at his most sophisticated and witty. A beautiful essay in mannered French classicism, La Source is set to selections by Leo Delibes and is simply structured: pas de duex, solo, solo, ensemble, repeat. Both of the pas de duex are witty and romantic without ever falling into cutesy or sappy.

The principal couple, Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado, work wonderfully well together to make the lovely, circular dancing look easy and spontaneous. Penteado is exceptionally brilliant in his solo variations. The ensemble is led by stalwart firebrand Leanna Rinaldi.

Barber Violin Concerto is no stranger to Palm Beach County audiences. This 1988 dance was one of several Peter Martins dances acquired by the now-defunct Ballet Florida during the tenure of ballet master Steven Caras. The premise is simple. There are two couples: one ballet, the other, “modern dance.” Each is costumed as per their genre.

What follows is arguably the strongest dancing of the evening. Principal Simone Messmer dances in a space of her own creation. She is perfectly matched for every aspect of this role. Chase Swatosh, while technically still a member of the Corps de Ballet, handles his principal role with finished maturity.

Twyla Tharp’s 1986 masterwork, In the Upper Room, has been part of the Miami City Ballet repertory for nine years. The dance holds up well with its ‘80s coolness and offhand virtuosity. It is nice to see the company dive headlong into a large-scale group vehicle. This work is also wonderfully danced, although at times it’s a bit choreographically homogeneous. Still, technically, and with Tharp’s highly idiosyncratic, thrown-away style, the performance is right on target.

The fairly recent changing of the guard at Miami City Ballet is no secret, and has had much (too much) written about it. Let’s just say the company is clearly in the very capable hands of artistic director Lourdes Lopez.

Program Two will go on stage at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Kravis Center.