Miami City Ballet at City Center

Miami City Ballet in Tharp's "In the Upper Room", photo by Michael Nagle

Miami City Ballet in Tharp's "In the Upper Room", photo by Michael Nagle

Last Wednesday, Miami City Ballet performed for the first time in Manhattan at New York City Center.  Artistic Director Edward Villella, a former New York City Ballet principal who founded MCB in 1984, chose two Balanchine ballets and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room for the opening night program.  It’s understandable that Villella would want to showcase his company in Balanchine works – many of which he learned from the choreographer himself – since it’s considered an accomplishment for any company to perform Balanchine.  But NYCB’s winter season is under way, providing New Yorkers with a wealth of Balanchine repertoire, and American Ballet Theatre always performs some Balanchine works in its fall season at City Center.  Isn’t New York City ready for something fresh and new?  As interesting as it is to watch another company interpret Balanchine’s ballets, I would have liked to see Miami City Ballet dancers in newer works by other choreographers.

Symphony in Three Movements, set to Stravinsky’s score of the same title, looked a bit crammed into the City Center stage, but the sixteen women in the corps were a crisp ensemble and maintained solid formations (there are many in this ballet).  The recorded music – due to financial limitations – did not enhance the score’s urgency, nor did it allow the dancers to always show their musicality.  In the lead pas de deux, Jeremy Cox and Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg provided the most playful interpretation I’ve seen of this choreography, and setting aside their stiffness, they performed brightly and made the most of the limited space. However, this ballet really belongs in the larger New York State Theater, where it premiered in 1972.

Balanchine’s La Valse, set to Maurice Ravel’s menacing score, goes from mysteriously intriguing to unbearably melodramatic, ending with a Death figure claiming the life of a young woman (Deanna Seay) waltzing in a ballroom.  Yet, the story matches the absorbing score, and the dancers were equally dramatic.  The men, however, gave much weaker technical performances than the women.  And the lighting, particularly in the opening scene, was too bright – not portraying the mystery and allure of Balanchine’s ballroom.

The program closed with Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room.  When this marathon of a ballet – set to Philip Glass’s pulsing score – is performed well, it can transport me to another realm.  This last occurred in 2006 when ABT performed Room at City Center.  Unfortunately, Miami City Ballet’s performance left a lot to be desired.  Too much fog at the beginning made it impossible to see the striking opening movement, which is repeated throughout the ballet.  While certain dancers had mastered Tharp’s relentlessly fast and complex movement (especially Alex Wong and Jeanette Delgado), others lacked power and intention, and ran out of steam during the riveting climax of the piece.  Room is all about fierceness, and Tharp herself calls the three men in sneakers “stompers” and the women in pointe shoes a “bomb squad”.  But without power and incessant energy, Tharp’s masterpiece loses the phenomenal effect that I know it can have on the audience.

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