Miami City Ballet Program 2
"Square Dance," "Rubies," "Symphony in C"
Miami City Ballet
City Center, New York
January 22, 2009
by Tom Phillips
Copyright 2009 by Tom Phillips
Not far into Miami City Ballet’s curtain raiser, “Square Dance,” about the time when principal Jeanette Delgado tossed off her first set of perfectly etched garguoillades, this observer felt a familiar sensation from a long time ago, but that’s been absent in recent years: a sense that one had just put on a new pair of glasses with a better prescription, and was suddenly able to see more clearly and vividly. I’d call it the Balanchine effect, a product of his revolution in dance, in which he stripped dancers down to their elemental forms, turned them out to reveal every angle of the body, gave them steps that revealed the inner workings of the music, and taught them to do it as if it mattered – to mean what they danced. No dancer produced the effect better than Edward Villella, whose turning leaps could make you feel like you were being kicked back in your seat, even in the top balcony. Villella performed in the premiere of “Square Dance” at City Center, with New York City Ballet in 1957. More than a half-century later, with his own Miami City Ballet, he’s bringing it all back home.
The Balanchine effect popped up again and again in this rigorous, demanding program. In “Square Dance,” Jeanette Delgado carved every figure with force and delight, including a sudden radical turn-in of the legs that brought a gasp and a laugh from the audience. We’ve seen these steps before, but elsewhere “Square Dance” has lost its festive feel, become a dry exercise in fitting classical technique to folk-dance patterns. Here, it rocked. The surge of Vivaldi’s ensemble passages was matched by a surge of energy throughout the corps, building up to a finale that felt like a hoedown. Delgado is a revelation: muscular and bold, she embodies and amplifies the musical impulse. She bonded with the audience early, locking eyes with us as she spotted front during a rapid series of two-handed partner spins. She was supported with intense concentration by Jeremy Cox, who gave the male solo an air of deep introspection.
Somehow, Villella has made Balanchine relevant to a new generation of dancers, made it possible for them to “mean what they dance.” He does it partly by speaking out freely about what these ballets mean to him. In the case of “Rubies,” one of the signature roles Balanchine made on him, he tells his company and the world it’s about his own youth in Queens, strutting around his turf with a crew of boyz in the hood, flirting with the goddesses boys make out of pretty women slightly more mature than themselves. Renato Penteado comes as close as anyone I’ve seen to channeling Villella’s energy, catching all the playfulness in the adolescent bravado, though short of Villella’s feral force. Jennifer Kronenberg was his goddess, a hip-shaking, twirling temptress with a sideways glance, a playful echo of the siren in “Prodigal Son.” Andrea Spiridonakis added eye-popping off-kilter kicks as the other demi-deity, under a gleaming red and black-velvet set, a dream hangout for high-school delinquents. OK, Villella, “Rubies” is about Queens in the fifties, although Stravinsky and Balanchine undoubtedly had other associations. What matters is that it comes alive.
“Symphony in C” is simpler and grander. It’s about music, and dance. No mind-games are required to feel the magic of Bizet’s second movement, with its hypnotic gypsy theme in the oboe, or the ascending thrill of the finale with its Bolero-like beat laid down by the strings, and its population explosion on the stage. Here Miami’s classically-trained dancers came to the fore: Mary Carmen Catoya was calm and correct in the first movement, her centered style set off by the sharp angular attack of demi-soloist Zoe Zien. Haiyan Wu was delicate, almost diaphanous as she bourreed in for the second movement. However, she and Carlos Guerra slighted some of Balanchine’s most daring romanticisms, the backward falls and the final, revolving swoon. From there the Delgado sisters took over – Jeanette electric in the third movement allegro, with a bravo-inducing whirl by partner Alex Wong, and the more subtle Patricia Delgado expansive and relaxed in the presto finale. The corps, which in some companies look like they’ve been dragged in for the finale, here were on top of the beat, even in the absence of a live orchestra.
The recorded music was an unfortunate effect of the economic crisis. MCB had hired an orchestra in New York but then had to cancel it because of the damage to their donor base in south Florida. Still, the dancers were listening up.
Balanchine said of NYCB, “New York is the only place in the world where we could have built this company,” and Villella could say the same of his adopted home town. As Miami is the southern gateway to America, so this is a company of immigrants – from Latin America, Russia, Europe and the Far East, as well as all over the U.S. After 23 years, it is in an intermediary stage of development, not yet possessed of a unified style, but clearly taking Balanchine in a new direction, Russian neo-classicism with a Latin flair. It took them 23 years to get back to New York. But they showed us something we’ve been yearning for, and missing, and we want to see them back here, again and again.
Copyright 2009 by Tom Phillips
Photograph: Jennifer Kronenberg in “Rubies” by Joe Gato