By Lawrence Budmen

Miami City Ballet ended an era with its final weekend of performances at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach. Next season MCB becomes a resident organization at the new Miami Performing Arts Center. (A gala production of the Petipa-Minkus classic Don Quixote will be the company’s opening attraction at its new home.) On March 3, Edward Villella’s company was in great form as it bade farewell to its performing venue of the past seven seasons. 

George Balanchine’s Serenade was the first ballet the Russian master created after his arrival in the United States. First presented at Edward Warburg’s estate in White Plains, New York in 1934 by Balanchine’s short lived American Ballet, Serenade remains a masterpiece. Set to Tchaikovsky’s lush, melodically inspired Serenade for Strings, the ballet abounds in asymmetrical patterns and groupings for a mostly female corps. The Miami City Ballet production was originally staged in 1991 by Karin von Aroldingen, Balanchine’s final muse. Haydee Morales has painstakingly recreated Karinska’s original strikingly beautiful costume designs to John Hall’s evocative lighting. In a stunning performance, the corps danced with dazzling precision. Deana Seay’s sylph like elegance and incredible line took pride of place. This ballerina never disappoints and, on this occasion, she gave a truly great performance – replete with drama and passion; a model of balletic precision. Her colleagues were not far behind. Tricia Albertson was a towering presence as the Dark Angel. Michelle Merrill’s elegance and grace as the Russian Girl lit up the stage. Kenta Shimizu was brilliant and partnered Seay with consummate skill. Mikhail Nikitine’s sensitive, striking dancing had a unique quality. There was something dangerous and mysterious in his dance with Seay and Albertson to Tchaikovsky’s poignant slow movement. What a performance!

Paul Taylor’s Funny Papers was a witty piece of fluff that attempted to distill the essence of newspaper comics in dance. Staged for MCB by Taylor dancers Sandra Stone and Patrick Corbin, this work gave the younger members of the company a chance to shine. Jeanette Delgado and Kyra Homeres were an athletic, fast paced duo in Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Another highlight was Andrea Spiridonakos and Marc Spielberger’s energetic take on Jo Stafford’s satirical, over the top version of the classic Helen Reddy feminist anthem I Am Woman. Santo Loquasto’s white and black costumes had style and the distinctive look was enhanced by Jennifer Tipton’s lighting design. Yet this ballet was ultimately insubstantial. It certainly is not a major opus in the oeuvre of that choreographic genius Paul Taylor. One had to wonder what this piece was doing on a program with two Balanchine classics.

Balanchine’s Symphony in C was created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947 as La Palais de Cristal. The following year Balanchine presented the work at the very first performance of the New York City Ballet. Set to Georges Bizet’s masterful Symphony No.1 in C Major, this ballet is unique in the Balanchine canon. The choreographer tempered his strong neo-classical style and Russian balletic predilection with a French lightness and grace that match the music – an incredible masterpiece by the teenage Bizet. The Miami City Ballet production is a monumental achievement. Requiring a large corps and numerous soloists (a different ballerina and male danseur in each of the four movements), this work is one of the most intricate and difficult of all this master’s creations.

Patricia Neary, a great Balanchine dancer, staged the MCB version with pinpoint precision. Karinska’s elegant designs – particularly the women’s headpieces – shone gloriously in meticulous recreations by Haydee and Maria Morales Above all, the dancing was breathtaking. The sheer beauty of this production was exhilarating! MCB’s corps never danced better – crisp, elegant, intense. The ever remarkable Deana Seay soared in the opening movement. Her speed and line are the things legends are made of! Kenta Shimizu was a stalwart partner – superb in every way. What a great duo these two dancers make! To the lovely Adagio, the always stunning Jennifer Kronenberg and suave Carlos Guerra danced a fluid, mesmerizing Pas de Deux. In the vigorous Scherzo, Mary Carmen Catoya was dashing and Renato Penteado’s stunning high lifts were heart stopping. The finale was the real charmer. Katia Carranza commanded the stage with enchanting, mesmeric grace and Mikhail Ilyin was her imposing partner. All of the dancers from previous movements return in this final rapid fire coda. The light as a feather corp work was masterful. This production was a MCB milestone – a real event to conclude the company’s Miami Beach tenure. When the curtain finally fell after a prolonged ovation, one could hear the dancers cheering and applauding from behind the curtain. They realized they had accomplished the extraordinary!

It was truly wonderful to have a live orchestra again in the pit for the two Balanchine works (after several seasons of dancing to recorded music). Conductor Juan Francisco La Manna (from the State University of New York at Oswego) led the Florida Classical Orchestra’s strings in a fine rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. Some silky string sounds permeated the Waltz and Elegy movements. He also conducted an able, rhythmically adept performance of the Bizet symphony despite a couple of brass mishaps. The oboe solo in the symphony’s elegant second movement was particularly rich and beautiful. This was a terrific evening all the way for MCB and a great harbinger for the exciting new era to come!

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