Performing Arts

Stars from around the world at International Ballet Festival of Miami

Brandon Lawrence and Celine Gittens in the wings about to walk on.
Brandon Lawrence and Celine Gittens in the wings about to walk on.

One of the great emotions always felt during the International Ballet Festival of Miami, this year in its 23rd edition, is the joy of watching young stars who will soon become legends of this classic art.

At this year’s festival (Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach Jackie Gleason Theater; Sunday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium), Brandon Lawrence will perform two exquisite pas de deux with Celine Gittens: “Romeo and Juliet” choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan with music by Sergei Prokofiev, and the “Aurora’s Wedding” from “Sleeping Beauty,” with choreography by Sir Peter Wright.

Both dancers are with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, one of the three top ballet companies in the United Kingdom along with The Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet.

Katherine Barkman and Joseph Phillips by G-nie Arambulo.jpg
Katherine Barkman and Joseph Phillips of Ballet Manila. G-nie Arambulo

“’Romeo and Juliet’ is one of those roles that all ballet dancers want to perform,” Lawrence said. “I’ve danced it only recently with Cline, and it was an incredible experience. It’s like a long journey, not only technically, but emotionally as well. The MacMillan production is truly notable and iconic, and to dance it for the IBFM is a pleasure, even though it’s only the pas de deux at the balcony.”

“’Aurora’s Wedding’ from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ meanwhile is one of those sublime classics that radiates elegance,” he added.

We commented that he has the physique for contemporary dance. “Really, yes, I enjoy dancing both styles, the classic and the contemporary,” he said. “I personally believe that a dancer has to be incredibly versatile. There are always classical ballets, like ‘Swan Lake,’ that are big audience favorites. But it’s also important to be part of the future of dance and create new movements and ideas.”

Another pair of young principal dancers come to Miami from a ballet company on the other side of the world, Ballet Manila in the Philippines. Katherine Barkman, who won a silver medal at Jackson, and Joseph Phillips, are invited residents of that company. They will perform the pas de deux from “Don Quijote” and “Le Corsaire” and “The Distance Between,” with original choreography by Simon Hoy.

Ballet Manila resident guest principals Katherine Barkman and Joseph Phillips.jpg
Ballet Manila resident guest principals Katherine Barkman and Joseph Phillips. ADPHOTO

Lisa Macuja Elizalde founded Ballet Manila in 1995 with just 12 members. “When I saw all the responsibilities I would have, because I was also principal dancer, I decided to invite the respected Filipino director and choreagrapher Eric V. Cruz to be our artistic director and co-founder,” Elizalde said. “Cruz held that position until he retired in 2003, and then I succeeded him as director and CEO of the ballet. And the company has grown beyond my wildest dreams.”

The dancers also have received training by Osias Barroso and visiting professors from the Vaganova Institute for Choreography in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“And although Ballet Manila is widely recognized for the excellence of its classical ballets, we have grown by adding contemporary Filipino pieces to our repertoire,” Elizalde said. “Each season we add works by Filipino choreographers during the galas, incorporating movements and others aspects from local indigenous dances.”

“Of course we were a Spanish colony for 400 years, so we cannot avoid referring to that historic legacy, especially the dances before the 20th century,” she added.

If you go

  • What: XXIII International Ballet Festival of Miami

  • Program IV: Etoiles Classical Grand Gala, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave.

  • Program V: Closing Gala of the Stars, 5 p.m Sunday, Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W Flagler St.

  • For tickets and the program, visit