“Symphony in Three Movements,” “La Valse,” “In The Upper Room”
Miami City Ballet
New York City Center
New York, NY
January 21, 2009
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2009 by Leigh Witchel
Well, they’ve finally come to New York. Miami City Ballet has played area theaters before, bussing critics out to see them, but they splashed down at City Center last night amidst politics and hoopla to an eagerly anticipated debut in a Balanchine-Tharp triple bill. The company was forced to use recorded music; given City Center’s muddy acoustics this was a dear sacrifice.
The choice of “Symphony in Three Movements” to open the program also had its drawbacks. Created for the Stravinsky Festival at the State Theater and meant to eat space, the ballet was crammed onto the smaller City Center stage with the corps de ballet curtailing their movements and still knocking into the side curtains.
Alex Wong leapt out first with Tricia Albertson. He’s a jumper with impressive facility, clearing imaginary hurdles as if suspended. From the third couple, Patricia Delgado turned precisely, but in playful choreography she wasn't very playful.
The central couple, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Jeremy Cox, had the kind of fascinating and fresh musical accenting that gives Miami City Ballet its reputation dancing Balanchine. The space finally cleared for the main duet and they did it very well, understanding the pointed sense of play in it. Cox is a musical dancer and was just predatory enough to keep things interestingly unsettled. Kronenberg danced brightly with awareness of the doll-like nature of the female lead. The dialogue and hints of drama between the two never dishonored the steps.
“La Valse,” made for the City Center stage, fits it far better. Miami dances the ballet with a marked contrast between the sections; they avoid “playing the end.” The first section feels almost like a normal party; the three young women no more than debutantes. At this point, with the ballet approaching six decades in repertory, we’re so used to the outcome that it’s disorienting to see the opening so seemingly placid. In the first couple, Zoe Zien projects both glamour and atmosphere; she would have been perfect for movies in the 1940s. When her partner, Michael Sean Breeden, danced with a group you saw how big he moved and his beautifully bred lines were always evident, but when he was up front he held himself back from us. The man in the third couple, Yang Zou, seemed unaware of the implications of the situation even as the three women surrounded him.
The full corps enters for the second half and the atmosphere changes to sweetly poisoned. Unfortunately the leads were not as suited to the work as the corps de ballet. Deanna Seay didn’t give a sense of the young girl behind the steps and Carlos Miguel Guerra played the young man with a scowl at first. Cox, as in “Symphony in Three Movements,” inhabits a stage and plays Death as a gleeful schemer, but he's too small and too fair for the part. He resembles Carson Kressley, so that when Cox dresses Seay in black jewelry, gloves and pinafore, it could be a makeover from “Queer Eye for the Dead Girl.”
The company ended with a pulverizing version of Twlya Tharp’s “In the Upper Room.” The stage technicians gave the dance a wee bit too much atmosphere; the opening dancers were almost invisible in a smoke-a-thon. Still, they were heroic. A few, including Cox, were in all three pieces with no sign of flagging. Close to the end, Jeanette Delgado busted out into crazy daredevil aerobics. As the piece ground on, they seemed more and more blissed-out – I don’t know whether that was artistic direction or an endorphin intoxication shared by the audience.
The audience went wild for the marathon endurance of the dancers, but I find “In the Upper Room” loud and incessant – One Damn Step after Another with extra added smoke. I also can’t be the only person for whom Norma Kamali’s black and white striped pajamas have unpleasant concentration camp associations.
Last year, Miami City Ballet commissioned another very expensive work from Tharp, “NIGHTSPOT,” which the company should have brought to New York. Even if it was undistinguished, it is its own ballet, and even undistinguished choreography made for a company gives more hints of the elusive voice unique to a company it doesn’t have with borrowed or inherited goods. Miami City Ballet is a talented and relentlessly ambitious company that has calculatedly forced comparisons to larger companies to aggrandize itself. They’ve come some way to meeting those comparisons and there’s always room for a company that does Balanchine with a light, deft touch. But even with a New York season, and as reflected in its name (just what is Miami City anyway?) the company won’t be artistically mature until it defines itself in terms of itself rather than others.
copyright © 2009 by Leigh Witchel
Photo by Joe Gato: “Jeremy Cox and Katia Carranza in Symphony in Three Movements”