Mooning Over the Miami City Ballet

Champions from Florida bring more than sunshine to our New  York winter

When George Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements premiered during New York City Ballet's 1972 Stravinsky Festival, shocks of delight ran through the audience. Balanchine's genius, which seemed to have been dozing for a few years, had awakened, as bright-eyed as ever. A different sort of delight electrified the City Center audience watching Miami City Ballet perform the work during its Manhattan debut season last week, even though Stravinsky's music wasn't heard live. The production—fastidiously staged by former NYCB dancers Bart Cook and Maria Calegari—was doubtless given additional polish by MCB's founder and artistic director, Edward Villella, who danced the ballet in 1972.

It's like a spun-steel spiderweb that a perfectionist creator keeps weaving into different designs—thrusting diagonal lines out of wheeling circles, breaking down and rebuilding. But Symphony also conjures up half-time displays, parades, and horse races in a pristine heaven. The MCB dancers attack Stravinsky's astringent yet sunny, jazz-tinged 1945 score with fine musicality and verve. Each cast member seems to have a sense of the whole and his or her place in it. When 16 spirited women in white leotards prance into ingenious formations, their ponytails swinging, they make unison look like something they've willed into perfection.

Many of the steps are simple: prances, leaps, spins, and a bustling race-walk that's a specialty of five couples in black-and-white practice clothes. The first principal pair introduces a boisterous, sideways jump with doubled-up legs that threads through the ballet (Alex Wong fairly soars as he chases his fleet partner, Tricia Albertson). It helps that these dancers understand how to shape steps into a phrase. They also know how to perform without "performing," as Patricia Delgado and Alexandre Dufaur (the lively third couple) also show us.

Two of the company's most interesting and versatile dancers, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Jeremy Cox, give the great central duet new life. In Stravinsky's adagio, tones coil around and thrust between one another in delicately sensual ways. Balanchine's choreography echoes that with angular designs and hints of a balletic orientalism (tiny steps and curling hand gestures). Kronenberg, elegantly coquettish, and the ardent Cox seem to be telling themselves and each other enthralling stories. How rare is that?

Maurice Ravel likened the ambience of his 1920 La Valse to that of "a fantastic and fatal whirling." It's that quality that Balanchine captured in his namesake 1951 ballet (also set to Ravel's 1911 Valses nobles et sentimentales). What looks at first like a strange debutantes' ball, with three gloved and bejeweled beauties preening like cats and fluffing up their net skirts, turns into "Death and the Maiden" and a mad, unseeing swirl of couples waltzing around the heroine's uplifted corpse. The three women turn out to be the Fates.

Early NYCB productions of La Valse were, as I remember, dark-tinged and more decadent, but the Miami dancers' innocent youthfulness and ardor give the ballet an interesting poignancy, as if these young people rushing about beneath the chandeliers and eerie beams of light (from Jean Rosenthal's original lighting plot) were unaware of danger—not just ignoring it. Deanna Seay is touchingly naïve in the role designed for Tanaquil LeClercq, and Carlos Miguel Guerra brings a hunger to the role of her suddenly smitten suitor. Cox plays Death as a more seductively demanding lover, and when Seay plunges her hands into the black gloves he offers, you shudder for her.

Cox is also terrific in the evening's closer, Twyla Tharp's 1986 masterwork In the Upper Room. But then, so are many others—once you can see through the smoke (over-profuse on opening night) that's part of Jennifer Tipton's brilliant lighting. As Philip Glass's throbbing score gradually shifts into hyperdrive, Tharp defines two squads by their styles and shoes—juxtaposing seven ballet people (the women in red pointe shoes) with six in sneakers. But Tharpian ballet is as daredevil as her slipperier, casual-mannered athleticism. And her three sneaker-shod women and their guys swing through spatial patterns as immaculate as any that Balanchine devised. By the end, they've invaded each other's territory, and you can hardly tell the difference between them.

The Miamians attack the choreography with gusto and finesse. Kronenberg and Jeanette Delgado, as the two sentries who open and close the piece, join Albertson, Cox, Wong, and Daniel Baker in digging into the floor with their weighted, springy steps. Mary Carmen Catoya flashes her pointe shoes at three ballet cavaliers (Guerra, Dufaur, and Didier Bramaz), joined by ballerinas Katie Carranza, Seay, and Patricia Delgado (yes, she and Jeanette Delgado are sisters). Intermittently, Carranza and P. Delgado bomb through with some of the most devilish footwork in the whole dazzling enterprise. As the music heats up and the dancers discard or put on items of their black-and-white-plus-red Norma Kamali clothing, they become increasingly heroic—our champions dancing to glory. Hail Miami.

 
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