Exquisite classicism, romantic pas de deux, and dynamic modernism – Miami City Ballet’s second program, which opened Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, has something for everyone. In this it follows an audience-friendly formula for three of the troupe’s four programs this season.
The evening’s centerpiece was the company premiere of New York City Ballet artistic director Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto, set to Samuel Barber’s lushly romantic Concerto for Violin & Orchestra, played with richly expressive color by the Opus One Orchestra, highlighted by violinist Mei Mei Luo. MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez danced under Martins for most of her two decade plus career at NYCB, and this is the first time the Miami troupe has danced a work by Martins, who came down to put the finishing touches on the coaching done by his son, former NYCB dancer Nilas Martins. (The father also took a bow afterward.) As such, the piece seems to represent a new gesture towards Lopez’ and MCB’s heritage, given that founding artistic director Edward Villella built MCB around the work of NYCB founder George Balanchine.
Barber Violin Concerto, however, is a glossy but insubstantial vehicle for tradition. Created in 1988, it is one of Martins’ earlier pieces, contrasting a noble ballet pair, here Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter, and barefoot modern dance couple Chase Swatosh and Nathalia Arja. All four gave ardently committed and finished performances. Messmer’s long, beautifully shaped line and sculptural weight make her an elegant and powerful presence (occasionally marred by a painfully exaggerated facial expression), with Krenstetter a regal partner in the opening pas de deux. Swatosh, an attractive dancer who can be bland, gave sharp, muscular definition to the cross-legged lunges and hovering, hook-armed poses in the duet that followed, with a terrifically sparkling, vibrant Arja.
Barber Violin Concerto contains some striking images and partnering, but it’s also repetitive and rife with clichés. The ballet pair reach nobly to the heavens, the modern couple repeatedly plunge into agonizedly reaching poses. Messmer joins Swatosh for an genre-crossing pas de deux that has some lovely moments, but which goes on and on as she adopts his extravagantly dramatic moves, climaxed by an awkwardly executed moment where she unpins her hair, presumably to free her passionate inner muse. This is followed by Arja buzzing and jumping, like a virtuoso mosquito, around an aloof but increasingly annoyed Krenstetter. It’s comical but shallow. In Barber Violin Concerto ballet is noble and uptight, modern dance is indulgent and wild, and women are followers or irritants.
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The evening opened with Balanchine’s La Source, an exquisitely constructed classical bauble to deliciously melodic, sweeping music by Leo Delibes (also played with verve by Opus One), with Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado, and soloist Zoe Zien leading an eight woman ensemble in bright pink. The company’s classical dancing has been marked by a new precision and cleanliness, particularly in the upper body, and Albertson exemplified those qualities here, dancing with finely delineated form, crisply shaping each flicking port de bra and angled turn, flowing lyrically in waltz segments. Penteado danced with a punchy brio occasionally marred by upper body tension, while Zien, who has been doing solos after years buried in the corps, was appealingly bright and sprightly. The corps mixed a pretty lyricism with arch glamour. The performance was muted, however, by another quality that has become common in the company’s Balanchine work: a lack of musicality, where the rhythmic and qualitative accents that make the multi-layered facets of the choreography (and the music) pop with life, are smoothed over or missing. The result is pristine and lovely looking, but missing a vital spark.
Energy was unevenly distributed in the closer, Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, a reliable blockbuster for MCB since they debuted it in 2007. Power is built into Upper Room, in the pulsing, soaring Phillip Glass music and Jennifer Tipton’s masterful lighting, where dancers seem to magically melt in and out of a velvety black expanse to a fog-filled stage. Tharp’s choreography shows us exaltation through determined physicality; driving, thrilling movement that builds to a mysterious rapture. MCB’s dancers do it with finesse and resolve, but only a few display the freedom and impulsiveness that can take Upper Room from strong to exhilarating. Jennifer Kronenberg and Messmer, two of a "sneaker stomper" cadre, open and close the piece with laser-eyed gravity, and Arja and Mayumi Enokibara slice through the space like avenging angels in red pointe shoes. Best were Shimon Ito, Kleber Rebello, and especially Renan Cerdeiro, hurling themselves precipitously into a pounding, leaping, bare-chested trio.
If you go
What: Miami City Ballet in Program II
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Info: $20 to $189, miamicityballet.org or 305-929-7010
Program repeats Jan. 16 to 17 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and Jan 29 to 31 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach