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Miami City Ballet

‘La Valse’, ‘Symphony in Three Movements’, ‘The Four Temperaments’, ‘Square Dance’, ‘Theme and Variations’, ‘Western Symphony’, ‘In the Night’, ‘Nine Sinatra Songs’, ‘Promethean Fire’

July 2011
Paris, Chatelet

by Sheila Cross

© Joe Gato

MCB 'Symphony in Three Movements' reviews

'Symphony in Three Movements' reviews

MCB 'Four Temperaments' reviews

'Four Temperaments' reviews

MCB 'Theme and Variations' reviews

'Theme and Variations' reviews

MCB 'La Valse' reviews

'La Valse' reviews

recent MCB reviews

more Sheila Cross reviews

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The Miami City Ballet celebrated their 25th anniversary in spectacular style, performing a three-week season in Paris at the Chatelet Theatre. They were invited by the Paris summer dance festival, now in its seventh year. Previous invited companies include the San Francisco Ballet and the Alvin Ailey company, which has performed for three seasons (and will be back again next year) so there is a strong American theme. Contrariwise, in 2007 the National Ballet of Cuba was the guest company; but three of the Principals of the Miami company are Cuban.

The company gave 17 performances yet no programme was identical. In all they danced eight ballets by Balanchine, two by Robbins, two by Tharp and one each by Paul Taylor and Wheeldon. Each programme consisted of three or four short ballets, in different combinations, just as New York City Ballet used to do in Balanchine's day. The MCB director, Edward Villella, was of course one of Balanchine's greatest dancers. His ambition was to develop a company true to Balanchine's aesthetics, as he states in his autobiography, Prodigal Son. This season demonstrated how fully he has succeeded in this, both in the artistic programming and in the dancing as the dancers burn with energetic attack yet respond musically to the complex scores and choreography.


Edward Villella
© Gio Alma
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I saw four performances, comprising nine separate ballets, six by Balanchine. They represented the range of genres he covered. The first I saw, La Valse, which is rarely danced, makes an interesting contrast to Ashton's ballet of the same name, also to Ravel, as it has a more explicit narrative than Ashton's, contrary to the usual expectations of either choreographer. The second part has a danse macabre with Death (a man in black) pursuing an elegant woman in white. The ballet as a whole showed the corps dancing lyrically to the complex mix of groupings, with a more flexible use of the upper body than is common among American dancers, and making the most of the distinctive use of hands and arms that is an elegant signature of Balanchine's choreography in this piece.


Miami City Ballet in Symphony in Three Movements, © The George Balanchine Trust.
© Joe Gato
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In contrast, on the same programme, the company erupted in Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements, one of his 'black and white' ballets (so called because of the colour of the practice clothes worn by the dancers). In this dynamic ballet they danced, despite the geometric complexity, more cohesively than in La Valse, and with the absolutely essential attack in two of the sections. The central pas de deux, like the earlier ballet, includes distinctive arm movements, in this case Balinese influenced, and swimming type motions that seem almost dream-like. The last programme I saw opened with another black and white ballet, the earliest of them all, The Four Temperaments. Sixty five years old, it still impresses with its modernity; and the company were equally impressive. Their attack, their musicality, were truly Balanchinian. Two male dancers, young virtuoso soloist Kleber Rebello and Cuban principal Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, were outstanding in the Mechanolic and Phlegmatic themes, expressiveness conveyed through their flexible backs, similar to the great exponent of that ballet, one of the company’s guest repetiteurs, the fantastic, if under-rated, former dancer, Bart Cook.


Carlos Guerra & Patricia Delgado in The Four Temperaments, © The George Balanchine Trust.
© Joe Gato
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A fourth Balanchine ballet was Square Dance, the first time it had been performed in Paris. It was created when Villella first joined New York City Ballet but he hasn't preserved the original version, which included a Caller, which made it seem more of a local country dance than it truly is, an astonishingly fast, intricate neo-classsical piece, with very interesting patterns and an impressive male solo, superbly danced by 19 year old soloist, Renan Cerdeiro.


Miami City Ballet in Square Dance, © The George Balanchine Trust.
© Kyle Froman
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The company brought two of Balanchine's ballets celebrating and extending the Mariinsky classical style, Ballet Imperial and Theme and Variations. I only saw the latter, which is the production Balanchine revised in 1970 for Baryshnikov and Kirkland. In both performances the corps danced exuberantly and cohesively but the senior principal, Jennifer Kronenberg and Cuban principal, Carlos Guerra were tense and out-danced by Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado in the earlier performance. Kronenberg and Guerra were more effective in Western Symphony, the one piece the company brought reflecting Balanchine's lively entertainment genre and his love of American culture, which audiences always applaud enthusiastically.

A ballet with much profounder emotional depth, Robbins's In the Night, contrasted sisters Jeanette and Patricia Delgado in the third pas de deux between two performances, whilst retaining the same two couples earlier in the ballet. Jeanette was the more dramatic of the two, as she was in other ballets, but all couples danced well, coping with the intricate partnering. Yet seeing it in Paris, and with Elisabeth Platel, one of the great interpreters of this sublime ballet, in the audience one missed the supreme elegance of articulation and phrasing of Paris Opera Ballet ballerinas.

The other two ballets I saw were also by American choreographers. Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs fielded most of the company principals and generated tumultuous applause. Taylor's Promethean Fire, inspired by 9/11, although regarded by some critics as dated, seems a masterpiece to me. It is very powerful, propelled by the Bach score, weaving the corps in intricate patterns and dramatic tableaux and the dancers performed whole heartedly.


Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado in Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire
© Gio Alma
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The season was a resounding success. Beforehand there were concerns that, as one of the lesser known American companies, it could not fill the theatre for three weeks, especially without any of the famous box office warhorses in the rep. But most performances were full. What impressed the most was the way that the company tackles its core Balanchine rep. They actually honour his approach and style with more passion and integrity than his own company, New York City Ballet. Whilst it may have fewer virtuoso dancers than some international companies, it has some remarkable young male dancers and the troupe has a rare dynamic and spirit. The company guested at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 but has made few visits to the UK; it is time they returned.

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