Both the speeches and the dancing at Miami City Ballet’s season-opening program began awkwardly and moved on to more assured grace, a progression one hopes is a sign of things to come for the troupe.
Television journalist Michael Putney started things off Friday evening at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House with a tribute to departed founding artistic director Edward Villella. The gesture was probably necessary, but was rendered weirdly self-serving and uncomfortable by Villella’s absence – and was made more so by Putney’s praise for the leaders of the ballet board who ousted him.
Thankfully, new artistic director Lourdes Lopez was warm and charming as she introduced herself to the city she left as a child, speaking of her amazement at the changes and excitement at being part of Miami’s growth. “It is with tremendous pride, honor and joy that I greet you,” she said. “I’m so very happy to be home.”
The dancers did not look at home in the opening ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs (The Skating Party), a 1937 work that evokes a 19th century winter idyll. It’s the only Ashton ballet in MCB’s repertory, and the dancers haven’t mastered its tricky combination of show-off virtuosity, softly shaped lyricism and playful silliness (coy pratfalls and mincing steps that mimic ice-skating). Renato Penteado, as the leaping, spinning Boy in Blue, and Nathalia Arja, spirited and spritely as one of two Girls in Blue, stood out. But the dancers as a whole often looked strained – the ballet, like the poufy period costumes and bonnets, didn’t seem to fit them well.
They were confident and powerful, however, in the works that followed. MCB has danced George Balanchine’s masterpiece Apollo for 25 years, but their rendition Friday combined assurance with fresh revelations, energetically and beautifully fulfilling the piece’s pristine, idiosyncratic architecture. Renan Cerdeiro was outstanding in his debut in the title role. Tall and slashingly lean, Cerdeiro has a natural elegance ideal for the part of a young god discovering and growing into his destiny. He put his own stamp on the role with a fiery intensity and impulsiveness, bringing it vividly alive.
As Terpsichore, the muse of music and dance who becomes Apollo’s inevitable partner, Patricia Delgado combined delicately sculpted precision with rich lyricism. Jeanette Delgado, as Calliope, muse of poetry, and Tricia Albertson, as Polyhymnia, muse of mime, also gave impassioned, finely shaped performances. Lopez has opted for the version without the opening prologue and Apollo’s ascent up a platform stairway, which lessens the work’s poetic impact, but it was otherwise as powerful as ever. Gary Sheldon conducted the Opus One Orchestra in a keen, precise rendition of the Stravinsky score.
The company was at its ferocious best in Piazzolla Caldera, Paul Taylor’s mesmerizing tango piece to music by Astor Piazzolla, and its intense human drama, sexy costumes and stark red backdrop were a satisfying contrast to Apollo’s white-clad refinement. Jeanette Delgado was sensual and heart-rending as a passionate figure isolated from the relentless dance ritual swirling around her. Arja and Penteado radiated heat in a combative whirlwind of a duet, and Kleber Rebello and Didier Bramaz were hypnotic in a duo, sliding seamlessly from loopily gymnastic to erotic playfulness. MCB initially struggled with Taylor’s dances, but now they’ve made them their own.