Fierce and fresh, Miami City Ballet claimed the vibrant territory of musical theater for its own Friday night with the company debut of West Side Story Suite at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
The dancers are not quite the proverbial Broadway triple threat, but the conviction, energy and aplomb of their dancing and overall performance made up for any shortcomings in acting and singing, making this suite of dances from Jerome Robbins’ legendary musical a satisfyingly rich experience.
Robbins staged WSS Suite to leave out the story, almost all the dialogue and many songs, so our sense of the ballet depends largely on knowing the original. Mental comparisons with the movie – the version most people know — are inevitable. But it’s still a thrill to see MCB’s dancers bring much of this show to life.
Jeremy Cox, as Riff, and Reyneris Reyes, as Bernardo, lead their Jets and Sharks in the opening Prologue, taunts building to flying tackles as the dancers dart on and off and at each other (it’s exhilarating to see the men running full tilt in sneakers). Cox’s taut pugnacity is right, but his expression often seems frozen in a kind of grimace, a tension that seemed to choke off his voice when he sang Cool. Reyes’ edgy reserve mostly works for Bernardo, but he could unleash more menace.
The "Dance at the Gym" was exhilarating, with Jeanette Delgado incandescent as Anita, swirling and stomping with the kind of aplomb that would be arrogant if it weren’t so joyfully natural. She’s no Broadway belter, but leading the Puerto Rican women in America, Delgado etched the song’s sharp accents and mocking lyrics, matching them with riotously swishing hips and arching body that made it hard to believe she’s ever been in a tutu. She eclipsed every other woman on stage.
Other standouts were the marvelously feral Andrei Chagas and a laser-intense Renan Cerdeiro in the Sharks, and the Jets’ brash Michael Sean Breeden and Didier Bramaz, jittering to bits in Cool. Jennifer Kronenberg, as Riff’s girlfriend, Graziella, was a proudly stalking adolescent queen.
The Opus One Orchestra, led by Gary Sheldon, played with the right jumpy verve, with singers Michelle Caravia, Marinel Cruz, Andrew Dahan and Marcela Penaranda rendering the ballads Something’s Coming and Somewhere.
The lyric and dramatic segments were less effective than the more dynamic numbers. Chase Swatosh, as Tony, and Patricia Delgado, as Maria, danced with sweet, open grace, but without convincing romantic passion. The closing “Somewhere Ballet,” with the cast uniting in a bucolic fantasy meadow, is not nearly as powerful as the original, tragic ending.
The program opened with another noteworthy company premiere, Balanchine’s 1959 ballet Episodes. Set to Anton von Webern’s sparse, atonal orchestral music and full of unorthodox, even startling lifts and stark geometry, it is one of Balanchine’s most challenging and intriguing works.
MCB re-inserted a rare, riveting, idiosyncratic solo created by Balanchine for modern dancer Paul Taylor for the New York City Ballet premiere, which the company has only staged once since. The part went to the dynamic young Brazilian dancer Jovani Furlan, who carved up the space with curving torso, spiraling limbs and deep, spiderlike squats, moving with a powerful sense of volume and gravity rare for a classical dancer. Also striking was Patricia Delgado’s luxuriant way of filling out the elaborate, circling gymnastics of her pas de deux with Renato Penteado.
Finally, Nathalia Arja and Cerdeiro had just the right vivacious spirit and spritely virtuosity for Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Arja’s charm and daring were a pleasure; it was another standout featured performance for a corps de ballet dancer who deserves a promotion.