THARP-GLASS (10-17-08)

By Lawrence Budmen

Miami City Ballet opened its season at the Adrienne Arsht Center in terrific form. In fact, this South Florida artistic jewel has never looked or danced better. While Twyla Tharp’s contemporary In the Upper Room (set to a numbing recorded score by Philip Glass) remains a crowd pleaser, the real news of the October 17 opener was the near perfect realization of two ballets by George Balanchine, an impressive display of how far this company has come.

The two Balanchine ballets were emblematic of that choreographic master’s artistic journey. It is hard to believe that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was once unfamiliar to American audiences. When Balanchine staged his version of Act II of this Tchaikovsky masterpiece for the American Ballet (his first North American company) in the 1930’s, the Petipa original was unknown in the United States, even though excerpts from the score were frequently played by symphony orchestras. Miami City Ballet presented Balanchine’s 1951 revised version for New York City Ballet, staged by Maria Calegari (one of the great Balanchine ballerinas).

With fond memories of his own days as an apprentice dancer with Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet, Balanchine attempted to encompass the essence of Swan Lake in one brief act. In doing so, he freely utilizeded music from other sections of the ballet and omitted some key sections of the Act II score. Certainly this digest of a large scale balletic spectacle must have been impressive in its day. Today it looks rather old fashioned and stilted; yet, like many period pieces, this curio exudes a certain charm. It definitely belongs in this company’s repertoire – a repository of Balanchine’s creative oeuvre. 

Zack Brown’s evocative set, Haydee Morales’ elegant costumes and John Hall’s moody lighting mirror the brooding intensity of Tchaikovsky’s music, conducted with flair by Juan Francisco La Manna. Miami City Ballet’s corp displayed nimble athleticism, perfect coordination and sheer beauty of line. These dancers have never given a more impressive display of technique and finesse. As the Swan Queen Odette, Haiyan Wu was truly remarkable in a show stopping performance. The exquisite grace of her arm movements, sensitive musicality and purity of line were astounding. She proved the ideal classical ballerina, combining limpid beauty with pyrotechnical mastery – a memorable performance. Yang Zou (as Prince Siegfried) was the perfect partner. He also unleashed impressive athleticism in a razzle dazzle male variation.

By contrast, The Four Temperaments is mature Balanchine, created for his quasi-private Ballet Society in 1946. The commissioned score by German master Paul Hindemith is a pithy neo-classical reclamation of the Baroque concerto-grosso. Astringent melodic lines and angular rhythms dominate this iconic masterwork for piano and strings. La Manna and his hard working players brought Hindemith’s austere essay to vibrant life. Balanchine’s choreography mirrors the complex architectural patterns of the score as well as the character of the four medieval moods of its namesake – Melancholic, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Choleric). At once edgy and lyrical, The Four Temperament is a series of solo and duos, alternating moody alienation and high spirited exhilaration. 

Wearing simple dance tights, the Miami City Ballet dancers sparkled in this 20th century masterpiece. Wu and Zou were nothing short of superb in the opening sequence, the essence of high modernism. Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz and Patricia Delgado and Carlos Guerra were impressive in striking duo variations. In the Sanguine section, Jennifer Carolyn Kronenberg and Renato Penteado led an awesome ensemble piece that seemed to rewrite the choreographic vocabulary. As the Choleric heroine, Andrea Spiridonakos had a star making turn, combining sheer speed with the kind of terrific charisma that lit up the stage.

Miami City Ballet is now dancing at its full throttle best. This opening program bodes well for a terrific season ahead. Bravo!   


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