Monday, March 30, 2009

Dance review: Miami City Ballet program slow to catch fire

A scene from Miami City Ballet's Symphony in C.


By Sharon McDaniel

Few stories on the arts can begin without a disclaimer about today’s economy. That goes for Miami City Ballet, and South Florida dance as a whole.

Friday night’s season finale at the Kravis Center went forward without live orchestra accompaniment. Miami originally scheduled live music for the entire season, including the finale’s two Balanchine works: Symphony in C (music of Georges Bizet) and Concerto Barocco (J.S. Bach). Yet only the company premiere, Jerome Robbins’ In the Night (1970), featured a solo pianist as required.

The 23-year-old company is facing declining ticket sales and contributions, plus a shortfall that dictated not only returning to taped music, but also cutting back the 2009-10 season, which meant not renewing the contracts of eight dancers.

Yet Miami City Ballet at least performed its 2008-09 finale. Both Ballet Florida and Miami’s Ballet Gamonet canceled two upcoming programs, unable to complete their seasons due to finances.

Uncertainties and the tensions they cause cannot help but make their way onto stage. At least that is one possible reason for the Miamians oddly bland and untidy opener, Concerto Barocco (1941). Even the first movement of Symphony in C (1947), for all its opulent classical spectacle, suffered a similarly cool, expressionless fate.

The one unequivocally fine performance was sandwiched in the middle: Robbins’ In the Night, staged by Maria Calegari. The engaging work, premiered also by Ballet Florida in 2003, explores different stages of love as seen through three couples. Each pair dances a scene alone, then all gather in the end before drifting away separately into the night. All is romance: the twinkling starry night sky; the music of Chopin; the women's elegant, flowing gowns.

As the first couple, Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz represented youthful, innocent, idealistic love. Albertson, while lightly graceful, could be overly formal or move as if either in a dream or afraid of breaking a fragile role. Regardless, the end result was an empathetic performance.

The second couple, in a mature and growing relationship, was Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra. These free spirits enjoy a true partnership, trust and passionate chemistry. The two principal dancers projected winning personalities with a touch of humor, despite Robbins’ difficult partnering. Their style was fluid elegance and a regal assurance.

Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado were embattled couple number three, the tempestuous relationship. They fight and reconcile, leave in a huff and run madly back -- only to repeat the cycle. That is, until Delgado bent low in one of the evening’s most passionate gestures. In the partially raised pit, Miami City Ballet’s pianist Francisco Renno performed four Chopin Nocturnes with uncommon sensitivity and strength.

Robbins took the cake, but there was still a fair bit of icing to close the evening. Sadly, not even sparklers Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado could fire up the Symphony in C first movement. It circled stiffly and roughly around them. But Miami’s notable symmetry and ensemble rebounded in the remaining three movements for a joyous finale.

Each movement features a different leading couple with its own corps de ballet. Everyone returns in the fourth movement, for a total of 48 dancers onstage to end the 32-minute Symphony.

The work turned the corner midway through the slow second movement, starring an especially poised Kronenberg with Guerra and a corps that relaxed into the steps, hitting rhythmic marks with grace and energy. Kronenberg managed the tough 6 o’clock extension, raising one leg nearly to the 12 o’clock position.

From there on, a gentle breeziness replaced the earlier rough start and the Balanchine -- even more importantly, the company -- caught fire.

Miami City Ballet will present Program IV again from April 3-5 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami. For tickets, call (305) 929-7010 or (877) 929-7010 or e-mail boxoffice@miamicityballet.org.

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