By Lawrence Budmen

Miami City Ballet presented a panoramic view of modernist dance aesthetics in the company’s impressive second program of its first season on January 12 at the Ziff Opera House at Miami’s Carnival Center. An evening of often spectacular dancing was marred only by the vapid choreography of Twyla Tharp and the relentless, numbing pulse of Phillip Glass’s third rate score in the 1992 ballet In the Upper Room.

Although obviously a crowd pleaser, Tharp’s ballet lacks choreographic imagination and solidity. The piece’s all too obvious movement patterns wasted the talents of Jennifer Kronenberg, Jeanette Delgado and the MCB’s impressive ensemble. Tony Award winning designer Jennifer Tipton’s smoke filled lighting only added to the ballet’s less than artful ambience. A lot of high energy, brilliantly precise dancing was wasted on this potboiler.

The remainder of the program was high grade caviar in a classical but experimentally adventurous genre. Agon, the final official collaboration between George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, remains a unique opus. Balanchine’s choreography mirrors Stravinsky’s fiercely original neo-classical atonality, creating a timeless masterpiece. The choreographer’s movement patterns are based on Baroque court dances; yet the sheer energy and physicality of this ballet places it firmly in the second half of the 20th century. (The piece was created in 1957.)

In Miami City Ballet’s kinetic performance, the dancers presented Agon with explosive energy – in many ways a MCB trademark. In the extended pas de deux, Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra were nothing short of remarkable. Kronenberg’s stunning extensions and sleek movements were complemented by Guerra’s athleticism. Their sensual duet was mesmerizing. The Kronenberg-Guerra duo clearly is the company’s new star attraction – the way Illiana Lopez and Franklin Gamero used to be. In Agon’s wildly creative movements, Kronenberg and Guerra set the gold standard.

Jerome Robbins’s 1953 setting of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is an abstract, rehearsal studio duet for a prima ballerina and her partner. Robbins’s recreates the music’s languid, sensual ethos. In Bart Cook’s suave staging, the striking original set and lighting designs of Jean Rosenthal and the evocative costumes of Irene Sharif are preserved. The superb partnering of Kronenberg and Guerra held center stage. Kronenberg’s free flowing agility and seamless line were stunning. Guerra brought charismatic languor to the male protagonist. Robbins’s masterpiece was sumptuously presented. This was Miami City Ballet at its best! 

Christopher Wheeldon is considered one of the most gifted contemporary choreographers. His Liturgy more than confirmed his glowing critiques. Set to the trance-like music of the Estonian mystic Arvo Part, Liturgy is a powerfully ecstatic duo. Wheeldon’s spectacular patterns often break new balletic ground. The sylph like Haiyan Wu dazzled in the difficult female lead. This young dancer continues to move from strength to strength. Her spellbinding performance was deeply affecting. She was splendidly partnered by MCB corps member Daymel Sanchez. The combination of great dancing, boldly original choreography, and Part’s signature mix of spirituality and minimalism was unforgettable. Juan Francesco La Manna was the attentive conductor. 

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