Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dance review: MCB marks 25th anniversary with sparkling opener

A scene from Miami City Ballet's staging of Bugaku.



By Jan Engoren

The Miami City Ballet is‭ ‬nothing if not‭ ‬synonymous with the name Edward Villella,‭ ‬the‭ ‬founder and‭ ‬artistic director.‭

Villella‭’‬s second act,‭ ‬after a long and distinguished‭ ‬career dancing with‭ ‬George Balanchine‭’‬s New York City Ballet,‭ ‬was the creation of‭ ‬Miami‭’‬s world-class ballet troupe,‭ ‬which he has grown and nourished over the past‭ ‬25‭ ‬years.‭

His philosophy,‭ ‬like Balanchine‭’‬s,‭ ‬of making the dance preeminent over the storyline and bringing with it real-life elements and an‭ ‬economy of movement,‭ ‬is evident in his staging of‭ ‬classic Balanchine works of particular significance to his own dance career.‭

For the‭ ‬25th anniversary,‭ ‬Villella has selected‭ ‬these‭ ‬meaningful works,‭ ‬and more important,‭ ‬two‭ ‬works that Balanchine created with him in mind.‭

The first is‭ ‬the‭ ‬exotic‭ ‬Bugaku,‭ ‬a tribute to the refined elegance of Japanese music and dance,‭ ‬evoking imagery of the Japanese imperial court,‭ ‬in which,‭ ‬in‭ ‬1963,‭ ‬Villella danced the male lead.‭ ‬The second‭ ‬selection‭ ‬is‭ ‬the‭ ‬expansive‭ ‬Theme and Variations‭ ‬– where,‭ ‬again,‭ ‬Villella left his signature in the demanding lead role in the‭ ‬1960‭ ‬New York City Ballet revival.‭

These pieces,‭ ‬along‭ ‬with‭ ‬Jerome Robbins‭’‬ Fanfare,‭ ‬were part of MCB‭’‬s first program of the season,‭ ‬which played Miami and Fort Lauderdale and concludes its run this afternoon at the Kravis Center.

The first piece of the program is‭ ‬Fanfare‭ ‬– a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II that premiered on the night‭ ‬of her coronation in‭ ‬1953.‭

Fanfare,‭ ‬choreographed to Benjamin Britten‭’‬s‭ ‬A Young Person‭’‬s Guide to the Orchestra,‭ ‬opens with a breathtaking tableau of ballerinas against a sky-blue backdrop,‭ ‬dressed in sherbet-colored tutus poised in a moment of stillness‭ (‬a Balanchine signature‭) ‬before they pirouette into action.

Villella appears onstage as the narrator,‭ ‬Major Domo.

Dressed as instruments in the orchestra‭ ‬--‭ ‬the woodwinds in blue,‭ ‬the brass in yellow,‭ ‬the strings in muted two-toned orange,‭ ‬and the percussion in whimsical stripes and sombreros‭ ‬--‭ ‬the show is lively and‭ ‬lighthearted,‭ ‬with dancers responding to the orchestral cues.

In particular,‭ ‬there is a comic‭ ‬exchange between the brass instruments and the‭ ‬percussion cymbals and drums as‭ ‬danced by principal‭ ‬dancers,‭ ‬Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez,‭ ‬Renato Penteado and‭ ‬Carlos Miguel Guerra,‭ ‬husband of‭ ‬statuesque principal dancer,‭ ‬Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg,‭ ‬whose graceful and expressive harp lends‭ ‬an‭ ‬elegant and refined‭ ‬sensibility to‭ ‬offset the more jovial antics of the men.

The live orchestra‭ (‬reinstated‭ ‬through‭ ‬2013‭ ‬thanks to a‭ ‬$900,000‭ ‬Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant‭)‬ under conductor Gary Sheldon,‭ ‬plays an integral role in the piece and it‭ ‬could not be staged to this‭ ‬kind of‭ ‬effect without the live music.‭ ‬The music seamlessly integrates into the dancers‭’‬ performance and becomes a counterbalance to the story of the dance.

Bugaku,‭ ‬considered shocking when it first premiered,‭ ‬opens to the minimal sounds of string instruments‭ ‬(the score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi‭) ‬setting the stage for the five‭ ‬female‭ ‬dancers,‭ ‬dressed in white parasol-inspired tutus,‭ ‬with geisha-white makeup waiting the arrival of the men,‭ ‬dressed in white‭ ‬samurai-inspired‭ ‬tunics.

Principal dancer Haiyan Wu,‭ ‬who danced with the National Ballet of China before coming to Miami in‭ ‬2003,‭ ‬is both austere and sensual‭ ‬as she‭ ‬aloofly woos her bethrothed and the audience.‭ ‬Mimicking traditional‭ ‬Japanese modesty,‭ ‬with subtle movements of her head and countenance,‭ ‬she entices and beguiles her suitor,‭ ‬danced with aplomb by principal dancer Garcia-Rodriguez.

Representing a marriage ritual,‭ ‬the two dancers engage in a highly stylized mating‭ ‬imagery that begins as delicate and sensual and ends with‭ ‬the‭ ‬lovers‭ ‬entwined in an erotic and acrobatic‭ ‬pas de‭ ‬deux.‭

The choreography leads the extremely flexible Wu to contort her body in angular and unfamiliar shapes and to position‭ ‬her arms,‭ ‬hands,‭ ‬and feet‭ ‬in often awkward-looking‭ ‬geometric configurations.‭

The third act,‭ ‬George Balanchine‭’‬s‭ ‬Theme and Variations,‭ ‬created‭ ‬in‭ ‬1947‭ ‬to Tchaikovsky‭’‬s‭ ‬Orchestral‭ ‬Suite No.‭ ‬3‭ ‬for American Ballet Theater,‭ ‬opens‭ ‬with a‭ ‬lavishly ornate blue-and-gold Russian-inspired backdrop.

The dancers,‭ ‬spotlighting‭ ‬Kronenberg,‭ ‬Guerra and the corps de ballet,‭ ‬are‭ ‬likewise dressed in blue and gold,‭ ‬like Russian porcelain.

The‭ ‬piece consists of a set of‭ ‬12‭ ‬variations,‭ ‬through which the complexity and beauty of‭ ‬classical dance is celebrated.‭ ‬Unconnected by a storyline,‭ ‬the focus is purely on the dance and‭ ‬gives Kronenberg and Guerra an opportunity to shine‭;‬ his strength and agility highlighted‭ ‬by‭ ‬her grace and poise.‭ (‬The minimal costumes are by‭ ‬Haydée Morales.‭)

Although staged‭ ‬with‭ ‬considerably less fanfare than one might expect for a‭ ‬25th anniversary celebration,‭ ‬all three of Villella‭’‬s programs received standing ovations‭ ‬at the Broward Center on Nov.‭ ‬12.‭ ‬

Miami City Ballet‭presents Program I‭ ‬at‭ ‬1‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Tickets range from‭ ‬$19-$169.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬832-7469‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬www.kravis.org‭; ‬or,‭ ‬call the MCB at‭ ‬(305‭) ‬929-7010‭ ‬or toll-free‭ ‬at‭ (‬877‭) ‬929-7010,‭ ‬or visit www.miamicityballet.org.

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