Miami City Ballet offered something for everyone in the packed Program II it debuted over the weekend at the Adrienne Arsht Center, from crystalline (neo) classic Balanchine to cutting edge concept, earthy expressionism and grand theatricality.
None of it, strictly speaking, was new. Balanchine’s 1940 Concerto Barocco has been in MCB’s repertoire since its first season. Chutes and Ladders, an intriguing pas de deux commissioned from hot young New York City Ballet talent Justin Peck, premiered last spring. Jardi Tancat, Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato’s barefoot tribute to Catalan peasant spirit, was a company premiere but is a 30-year-old staple of the European ballet repertoire. And Alexei Ratmansky’s sweeping Symphonic Dances, commissioned two years ago, has been brought back for the second season in a row.
But the ambitious range offered a telling look at how the troupe’s dancing style and artistic character are changing under artistic director Lourdes Lopez, who took over last season from founder Edward Villella.
Not all of that change is positive, most apparently Friday night in the way the troupe danced Balanchine, which has been the MCB’s defining bedrock. Lopez seems to be placing greater emphasis on technical precision, correctness, cleanness and clarity. Barocco’s lovely central adagio section had a flowing, silken quality, with Carlos Guerra a paragon of seamless partnering for Katia Carranza, weaving through eight corps dancers in softly soaring lifts and weaving patterns, to the lovely melody of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Major.
But the spritely first and third sections, led by Carranza and a brightly charismatic Sara Esty, have lost their sense of urgency and buoyancy, the feeling of being carried forward on the music that have long animated the way MCB dances Balanchine ballets. When the women bounce, delicately bent-legged, on their pointes, the movement used to seem suspended on the pulse of the music. Now it feels tense. In the rapid sections, the dancers can look as if they’re straining to keep up rather than being sustained by the music’s speed.
Peck created Chutes and Ladders for the in-the-round stage at the New World Symphony (which co-commissioned it), and had to re-configure it for the proscenium stage of the Ziff Ballet Opera House. While that means losing some of Chutes’ three-dimensionality, the work remains a compelling addition to MCB’s repertoire.
Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado don’t have the intensity of original dancers Jeanette Delgado and Kleber Rebello (both out with injuries), but they bring their own sharp kinetic expression to Chutes. (Albertson, who was striking in Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia last fall, in particular showed new depth.)
Violinists Alla Krolevich and Mei Mei Luo, violist Richard Fleishman and cellist Angela Maleh played Benjamin Britten’s aching, astringent String Quartet No. 1 from an upstage platform, and the way the dancers periodically stopped to consider them and their music brought to mind Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, also a pas de deux with onstage musicians, in a way that the premiere did not. But Peck creates his own intrigue with Chutes’ shifting, flashing formalism, and an elusive drama in the way the dancers mirror or move to and away from each other. The ending, as Albertson runs away from the musicians, only to be brought softly back by Penteado, is surprisingly poignant.
Jardi Tancat was announced with some fanfare as MCB’s first piece by the prolific and popular Duato. Set to Catalan folk music-inspired songs by Maria del Mar Bonet, this 1983 modern-ballet blend is meant to evoke the hardship and soulful earthiness of peasant life.
Three couples (Albertson and Renan Cerdeiro, Nathalia Arja and Didier Bramaz, Jennifer Kronenberg and Ariel Rose), barefoot in earth-toned dresses and pants and shirts, contract, scoop and wrap around each other, feet flexed and hands cupped (shades of Martha Graham). The dancers perform this very different style with impressive commitment; Kronenberg in particular danced with moving emotion. But Tancat’s repetitive dynamics and rhythm are almost jarringly unmusical, and its style and theatricality seem dated.
Ratmansky’s Symphonic Dances, however, continues to seem a rewarding and significant ballet. What stood out on this third viewing was how new details kept emerging from its shifting, dreamlike drama, and how closely the surreal semi-narrative, as well as its elaborate, sweeping structure, are driven by Rachmaninoff’s powerful, emotive score (given a gallant performance by the Opus One Orchestra under Gary Sheldon).
Shimon Ito, as a kind of beleaguered rebel, and Arja, as his longing perhaps-paramour, don’t have the same intensity as Kleber and Delgado did, but Dances holds up. Fresh facets of both choreography and psychology kept emerging: the link between Ito and his dominating shadow/alter-ego Penteado; the shifts from competition to attraction between Arja and Albertson; how the middle section seems like a nightmarish Tolstoyan ball; how seamlessly individual details and conflicts emerge from the surging group patterns. The one failing was that the driving, unified group energy, especially in the leaping, cannon-shot ending, seemed a bit subdued and ragged. Symphonic Dances is worth keeping perfectly on edge.