Miami City Ballet had a perfect date to launch their company premiere of Richard Alston’s Carmen — Valentine’s Day weekend. Unfortunately, the ballet that is one of their biggest premieres this season, the tragic story of the legendarily compelling gypsy seductress, has neither sensual heat nor dramatic power nor choreographic flair. Despite fine efforts from some of its performers during Friday night’s opening at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House, this Carmen is for the most part — and this is the only tragic thing about it — dull.
Alston, a highly regarded dance maker in Britain, is a modern dance artist, and a big part of the problem with this work is that he shows little fluency with or understanding for how to use the ballet vocabulary. The dancing is repetitive and conventional. Carmen’s pas de deux with her two lovers, Don Jose (Jovani Furlan) and the toreador Escamillo (Reyneris Reyes), surge and circle back and forth, without building any physical, and thus emotional, tension. Jeanette Delgado was sharp and vivid in the title role, a part that seems made for her, but this Carmen was more of a perky, impulsive flirt than a tempestuous sexual powerhouse. She and her lovers don’t kiss, they hug.
Carmen opens with Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, who does a valiant job as a fortuneteller who periodically sweeps in with a card showing imminent doom — a flimsy device meant to shadow the action with a sense of ominous fate. Furlan is an appealing young talent, but the part of Don Jose seems hapless and amorphous, dropping over repeatedly in despair. Escamillo’s solos are a watered-down version of flamenco and toreador inspired style. (You see the same cliché vision of Spanish culture in Antony McDonald’s costumes, generic peasant girl dresses and bland tan uniforms at the opening, then garish, ill-fitting flamenco-esque gear at the end.)
Carmen’s climax, when Furlan stabs Delgado after she has betrayed him with Reyes, takes place so quickly, with so little dramatic definition, that it takes a minute to realize the ballet is over. As with the dance as a whole, you’re left going “Huh? Is that it?”
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Friday’s program included another significant company premiere, of Twyla Tharp’s Sweet Fields. MCB has done many Tharp works, but Sweet Fields is an anomaly for her; a severely simple, spiritual dance set to Shaker hymns by William Billings. I find Fields to be one of Tharp’s less compelling pieces, but it has an almost luminous sense of ritual and gravity, and some beautiful movement architecture, with 12 dancers processing and circling in Norma Kamali’s flowing white costumes. There are some striking moments in Fields, like the one when a line of men, holding another overhead, brings him down and through their legs and back up in a startling arc. The dancers executed the choreography with pristine clarity. But they lacked a sense of the movement’s dynamics, the release in a swinging leg, the impulse in a bobbing tilt, the playfulness of suddenly shaking hands, that shade the dance and give Sweet Fields its sense of humanity. The piece felt clean but tight, two-dimensional.
The evening opened with George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, which is the first piece MCB danced on their debut opening night back in 1986. The troupe’s recent performances of Balanchine have tended to be immaculately rehearsed, but lacking in the dynamism that had been their hallmark. But this was a thrilling Allegro, with the four couples, led by a vibrant Patricia Delgado partnered by Renan Cerdeiro, spinning and sweeping excitingly through Allegro’s expansive, speedy choreography. Delgado, who has been showing a commanding new confidence recently, was splendid, combining a joyful lyricism with sparkling speed. (Andrei Chagas, the youngest of MCB’s cadre of talented Brazilian dancers, stood out in the ensemble here, and also as a Picador in Carmen, with his vivid, striving dancing.)
If you go
What: Miami City Ballet in Program III
When: Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, and March 20 to 22 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale
Info: $20 to $175; 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org