Something subtle but crucial was missing from Dances at a Gathering, the evanescent Jerome Robbins masterpiece Miami City Ballet is dancing for its fourth and final program of the season. The obvious pieces were in place at Saturdays performance at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale: the 10 dancers executed the choreography well, sometimes thrillingly so.
But Gathering is not about thrills. More than probably any other of Robbins ballets, its power comes or should come from its tantalizing union of humanity and artistry, the way it makes often complex dancing seem like spontaneous expression. Robbins created it in 1969 on departed MCB artistic director Edward Villella, and MCB expressed those subtler qualities beautifully when it premiered Gathering in 2006. This may be an instance where the loss of Villellas direct connection to the ballets source has made a big difference.
MCBs marketing of Program IV has focused on Balanchines comic, splashy Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and a cameo appearance by retired celebrity baseball player Mike Piazza in Fridays show at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, for the final weekend of performances. But Gathering is by far the more substantial work.
It starts simply Jeanette and Patricia Delgado, Tricia Albertson, Callie Manning and Jennifer Lauren in flowing pastel dresses; Renato Penteado, Reyneris Reyes, Renan Cerdeiro, Kleber Rebello and Chase Swatosh in billowy shirts and boots, on a bare stage with a pale blue sky type backdrop. (Les Dickerts supervision of Jennifer Tiptons exquisitely atmospheric lighting design was unfortunately flat.) The costumes and hints of folk dancing imply a European country community, joyfully dancing in a bucolic green, shadowed by longing and hints of a more ominous loss. Francisco Renno gave a commanding rendition of the Chopin piano mazurkas and waltzes.
There was much to enjoy. The dancers generally do the lyrical, lovely choreography well. Reyes, whos been prominent this season, was a strong presence, and his yearning duet with Jeanette Delgado, amidst a hurtling late sequence, was a powerful moment. Cerdeiro was an adroit, chameleonic character, and Penteado gravely centered and comic by turns. Jeanette Delgado sparkled, and Callie Manning was coyly funny as she coaxed three indifferent men. A sequence where three women are tossed down a line of three men in increasingly precarious lifts was suddenly thrilling.
But too often subtler things, like the clarifying finish to a movement or articulation of its shape or quality, were missing. The way the dancers looked at each other or into space often seemed stagey, rather then generated by specific emotion or intent. Penteado, in the Villella role, seemed off kilter in a ripping solo of jumps and turns. The result was that a dance that can feel magically human and alive often felt like another pretty ballet.
Theres no subtlety but lots of fun in the brassy Slaughter, which Balanchine expanded from a segment he created for the 1936 Broadway musical On Your Toes. Didier Bramaz was terrifically funny as the egotistical Russian ballet star who pays a Gangster (Penteado in what will be Piazzas role on Friday) to kill Hoofer Kleber Rebello, his dance and romantic competitor for Strip Tease Girl Patricia Delgado. Rebello was forceful, but a bit helter-skelter in the comic tap dancing sequences, and Delgado was intense but not convincingly sensual. Michael Sean Breeden, Cerdeiro and Shimon Ito were terrific as three athletically bumbling cops, as were Bradley Dunlap and Neil Marshall as the cool bartending duo and Andrei Chagas as a tumbling thug who uncovers the murder plot. All ends well, of course what gangster is a match for the power of dancing?
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Patricia Delgado as dancing a duet with Reyneris Reyes in Dances at a Gathering; Reyes' partner in that duet was Jeanette Delgado.