The big fanfare at Miami City Ballet's opening night on Friday was just that - Fanfare'', a showy but shallow Jerome Robbins ballet staged to celebrate the return of the orchestra and the launch of the company's 25th anniversary. But the real sense of triumph came later, as the dancers flew into Balanchine's "Theme and Variations'', moving with a verve and musicality and unified energy that brought the ballet and the stage of the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center vividly alive.
The opening ceremonies featured a parade of past and present MCB dancers giving flowers to a glowing Toby Ansin Lerner, who founded the ballet and got a standing ovation of her own. "I brought a bunch of friends," announced a beaming Dennis Scholl, vice-president/arts of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which gave MCB the grant that enabled it to bring back the Opus One Orchestra. "They asked for really, really good seats. How many guys?" From the orchestra pit came a shout of "Fifty-four!" The audience roared in appreciation. The orchestra, conducted by Gary Sheldon, rewarded them by playing beautifully; warm, sensitive, lively.
As a way to welcome back live music, "Fanfare'' seems better in concept than in reality. The 1953 ballet shows Robbins' Broadway side, rather uncomfortably mixed with ballet - though not the subtle ballets of Robbins' later years. "Fanfare'' looks like a bit like '50's movie musical, starting with the unfortunate Technicolor costumes in blue and orange and mustard, appliqud with different musical instruments, with big shiny crowns for the women and strange saucer-like hats for the men.
Edward Villella narrated Benjamin Britten's "Young People's Guide to the Orchestra'', with the dancers as different instruments - flutes, cellos, and so on, but the choreography is more music illustration than inspiration. There's some fun comedy for the men - Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, Renato Penteado and Carlos Guerra cavort entertainingly as the Percussion - and a grand parade for the entire cast, but "Fanfare'' is lightweight entertainment.
Balanchine's 1963 "Bugaku'' is also a kind of period piece, but with substance and style that keeps it from dating. The eerily careening, Asian-influenced Toshiro Mayuzumi score and David Hays' geometrically stark set are still striking, and Garcia-Rodriguez and Haiyan Wu were beautifully suited as the Japanese couple originally danced by Villella and Allegra Kent. Astonishingly pliant and reed-slender, Wu burned quietly as a bride on her wedding night, progressing from coy, softly curling timidity to the tortured eroticism of the central pas de deux. Garcia-Rodriguez's panther-like sensuality and strutting machismo, as he stretched Wu into taut splits and twists, made her seem all the more fragile - even as the tension between them showed her tensile strength.
The glowing heart of "Theme and Variations'' was Jeanette Delgado, back from an injury last season and looking better than ever. Delgado is a compact dancer, but you'd never know it as she sweeps her leg in a grand circle or dives into arabesque, her limbs seeming to stretch on endlessly. She excels in the crackling intricacies of a ballet like Theme'', glowing brighter as she moves faster, as if the music and the speed were heating her to a grand ballerina glow. In the lyrical sequences she moved with a floating, cottony softness. Penteado also looked terrific, moving smoothly and easily through a blistering sequences of turns, a beautifully tuned-in partner. But it was Delgado who made Theme'' shine.