By Lawrence Budmen

Two decades ago Miami City Ballet made its debut at downtown Miami’s Gusman Center. Under Edward Villella’s visionary direction the company has made strides beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. MCB has danced to acclaim across the United States and around the globe. To open this celebratory season MCB presented three ballets that are closely associated with Villella.

At the matinee performance on November 6 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, the dancing of the entire ensemble flowed with crisp precision. The program opened with George Balanchine’s 1960 tour de force Donizetti Variations. Set to ballet music from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Don Sebastien the work is a tribute to Italianate brio and grace and the great the Danish tradition of August Bournonville. When the New York City Ballet presented the work at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in 1962, Villella received 27 curtain calls. 

The Miami City Ballet’s revival was terrific. The finely honed, elegant dancing of Tricia Albertson lit up the stage. This dynamo of a ballerina is definitely a MCB star of the future! Mikhail Ilyin danced at lightning speed. His exhilarating turns galvanized the audience. The corps had a field day with Balanchine’s dizzying choreography – dancing with the lightness of quicksilver. 

Balanchine’s 1929 dramatic ballet The Prodigal Son was revived in 1960 for Villella. Set to a remarkable score by Sergei Prokofiev, the ballet is Balanchine’s only collaboration with that 20th century master. The Russian constructivist art of the 1920’s formed a point of departure for the choreography. The fierce rhythms and dissonance of Prokofiev’s music also reflect the cultural trends of the day; yet the score is strangely haunting. 

Originally staged for MCB by former Balanchine dancer Richard Tanner, Prodigal Son remains an awesome, moving dance theater work. In the title role Luis Serrano moved with manic, fierce energy. For all of his combustible speed, Serrano was ultimately powerful in the ballet’s final scenes. As The Siren, Jennifer Kronenberg owned the stage. The statuesque Kronenberg was both sensual and mesmerizing. Her wide extensions were stuff of which balletic legends are made! In the mimed role of The Father Mikhail Nikitine was dignified and eloquent. The lively, characterful dancing of Emilie Fouilloux and Kristin D’Addario as The Sisters riveted attention. This revival of Prodigal Son was bracing - a tribute to the power of dance! 

The Quick-Step: Unspeakable Jazz Must Go was part of Villella’s The Neighborhood Ballroom. A collaboration with ballroom dance specialist Frank Regan, this work is great entertainment in the Broadway mode. Set in a speakeasy during the roaring 20’s to music by Duke Ellington, Walter Donaldson, and others, Villella’s choreography is fluent and well crafted. It lacks the sense of irony that a choreographic genius like Paul Taylor brings to similar material. Sexy, svelte Katia Carranza commanded the stage with her slinky, hypnotic movements. Renato Penteado had the idiomatic verve of a Fred Astaire. As the Poet Carlos Guerra’s moves were sexy and entrancing. The entire company was on fire in the Black Bottom – a light up the sky finale to a super celebration of two decades of great dance in Miami!

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