By Lawrence Budmen

Is there a more beautiful ballet than Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering? The Miami City Ballet’s premiere of Robbins’s choreographic masterpiece on February 10 at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach was nothing short of a landmark event for the company. The ultimate expression of the pure beauty of dance, this 50 minute extravaganza of balletic settings of Waltzes, Etudes, Mazurkas, Scherzos, and Nocturnes by the king of the 19th century Parisian salon Frederic Chopin is in a class by itself. Dances at a Gathering is exhilarating, sensual, playful, and deeply moving. 

The sheer beauty of Robbins’s solos, duos, and concerted dances is breathtaking. I first saw this great work nearly three decades ago at New York City Ballet. Through numerous repetitions the spell that this work cast continued to be mesmeric. Miami City Ballet did Robbins’s visionary choreography proud. Staged by former New York City Ballet star Susan Hendl, this production was simply one of the finest evenings the company has ever produced. 

Haydee Morales beautifully reproduced Joe Eula’s elegant potpourri of colored costumes – enhanced by the evocative, subtly artful lighting of Jennifer Tipton. How wonderful to hear live music again at the ballet! Chopin’s elegant, heartbreakingly gorgeous works were played with idiomatic style and grand romantic sweep by Francisco Renno. 

In a glorious apricot costume, Jeanette Delgado was a marvel of speed and lightness. Katia Carranza was enchanting and elegant. Renato Penteado has come of age as a dancer noble. His leaps and swirls were simply stunning! Carlos Guerra continues to command the stage. He found new subtlety and nuanced beauty dancing Robbins’s delicately sculpted movements. And what would MCB be without Jennifer Kronenberg? In gorgeous mauve, she lit up the stage with beauty and élan. Kenta Shimizu’s partnering was beautifully integrated; his solos were stunning. Michelle Merrill was vibrant (in green). There was more to this work than the individual dancers. The ensemble pieces were exquisitely done. Robbins’s movement vocabulary runs the gamut from Petipa to his jazzy riffs for Broadway and his modernist ballet American Export, Opus Jazz. The Miami City Ballet soloists made Robbins’s remarkable invention come alive in the most beautiful, exciting manner. When the last notes and steps of the final Chopin Nocturne had sounded, the audience had been through an emotional experience. The ovation that followed was capped by the cast’s backstage cheers as the final curtain fell. 

After Dances at a Gathering, George Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial was something of an anticlimax but a splendid one nonetheless. Set to music of Tchaikovsky, Ballet Imperial is Balanchine’s tribute to his roots at St. Petersburg’s Kirov Ballet. Ballet Imperial is a splashy, entertaining work. Balanchine pulls out his entire choreographic bag of tricks. Think of it as the Classical Rockettes. 

The Miami City Ballet corps was agile, fleet, and simply terrific in this large scale showcase. Mary Carmen Catoya danced the prima ballerina part with grandeur, nimble flexibility, lightness and grace. Tricia Albertson’s solos were exhilarating. The finale of this ballet is grand in the extreme and utterly irresistible. Miami City Ballet covered itself with glory!

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