By Lawrence Budmen

High octane, combustible dancing that all but leapt off the stage marked the opening night of Miami City Ballet’s second program of the season on January 13 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach. The company premiere of a 1970’s Twyla Tharp proto-piece and two atypical George Balanchine ballets provided choreographic excitement. 

Edward Villella’s company just keeps getting better and better. They manage to scale balletic Olympus with regularity and, then, just top themselves. Literally the best partnering since Illiana Lopez and Franklin Gamero retired from dancing graced Balanchine’s La Source. The team of Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado were by turns brilliant, ethereal, graceful, and exhilarating. Penteado’s high leaps were breathtaking. Catoya was the epitome of delicacy and balletic purity of line. Together they were dynamite! They had been coached by Violette Verdy, one of the great Balanchine ballerinas and the original creator of the prima ballerina part in La Source. They achieved a level of unity, musicality, and sheer balletic excitement that lit up the hall. 

La Source is Balanchine’s tribute to French classicism and his own roots at St. Petersburg’s Kirov Ballet. Set to a scintillating score by Leo Delibes (composer of Coppelia and the opera Lakme) La Source is a beautiful, exciting tribute to 19th century romanticism. The exquisite, sylph like female costume designs of Karinska were reproduced in masterly curatorial fashion by the company’s indispensable costume designer Haydee Morales. 

Catoya and Penteado were not the only exciting elements in this terrific revival of a seldom performed Balanchine gem. The female corps was marvelous – precise, beautifully fluent, well rehearsed. Kudos to ballet mistress Roma Sosenko and her assistant Joan Latham (a former MCB dancer)! Jeanette Delgado was the high kicking soloist in the ensemble numbers. She is a major talent whose complex leaps dazzled the eye and the senses. Balanchine’s ability to make intricate patterns out of the most elemental balletic steps continues to astound. 

Push Comes to Shove was created by Twyla Tharp in 1975 for Mikhail Baryshnikov. Tharp’s off kilter balances and kinetic movements were new to classical ballet. Today it all seems rather dated. This was Tharp’s signature style of that era. She has since moved on to complex settings of Bach and extravagant Broadway spectaculars. In the opening Bohemia Rag, Tharp’s quirky; tongue in cheek movements seems to work. When the music of Haydn’s Symphony No.82 takes over, the piece loses focus. Tharp’s corps groupings are alternately messy and confusing. What was fun in 1975 now seems self indulgent.

Faithfully staged by Tharp dancer Elaine Kudo, Push Comes to Shove was danced with abandon by the entire MCB company. Luis Serrano was dazzling in the Baryshnikov part. His frantic, jerky movements were executed with the kind of verve that turns the mundane into gold. This splendid dancer is definitely on a roll. As the flapper ballerina Katia Carranza was a delight. She captured the jazzy wit behind the beats. Carranza made Tharp’s strange balances seem like a piece of toast. The statuesque Jennifer Kronenberg dominates the stage every time she dances. In the minuet of Movement III Carlos Guerra was a striking, athletic presence. Somehow her classical purity fitted Tharp’s choreographic humor to perfection. Santo Loquasto’s costume designs still retain their charming pastiche qualities – if only the same could be said for Tharp’s choreography. 

For ballet Americana, nothing can top Balanchine’s Western Symphony – not even the choreography of Agnes DeMille or Jerome Robbins. Set to a pastiche of western and folk music arranged by Hershey Kay, the ballet is a joyous tribute to Balanchine’s adopted country. With an atmospheric set by John Boyt and the snazzy western costumes of Karinska, Western Symphony is one delightful high stepping romp. (What can be more American than a cowboy ballet by a Russian choreographer and costume designer?) Susan Hendl’s staging for MCB has the snap and pizzazz of Broadway and the balletic subtlety of New York City Ballet. (Hendl was one of the great ballerinas of Balanchine’s legendary New York company.) In the opening Allegro section the dream team of Deana Seay and Mikhail Nikitine really created sparks. Seay’s lightning fast kicks and turns were a dizzying feast of great dancing. Nikitine was dynamic; his leaps were unbelievable. The ensemble work was simply great. Only Balanchine could make a square dance pattern into a classic divertissement. And Miami City Ballet is one of the few troupes that can dance that art con amore. In the concluding Rondo Michelle Merrill was the sexy dance hall girl and Kenta Shimizu her athletic partner. Merrill’s leaps were pure excitement. Nothing can top the final ensemble in which the entire company fills the stage with exuberant abandon. Here was a fitting conclusion to a great program – a tribute to the priceless culture resources of Edward Villella and Miami City Ballet.

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