Broward audiences got their first glimpse this weekend into Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez’s vision for the Miami City Ballet (MCB) and it was stunning.
Although Lopez returned to Miami last year, she triumphed with an inaugural season conceived by her predecessor, MCB founder Edward Villella. Program I: First Ventures, which debuted two weeks ago in Miami and repeats at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center Nov. 15-17, is the first programmed by Lopez.
Maintaining the company’s tradition, ballets by George Balanchine serve as bookends, opening with Ballo Della Regina, set to music by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, and closing with Serenade, danced to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra.
One of his later works, Ballo Della Regina (1978) is signature Balanchine, featuring a large female corps circling the stage and rotating through complex formations en pointe as soloists Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado weave through the action in a series of crowd pleasing pirouettes, leaps and lifts. Dressed in contemporary leotards and short skirts in pastel pink and aqua hues, the corps invokes the waves of the sea, and Penteado, a brave fisherman in search of the perfect pearl.
Balanchine’s choreography serves to literally interpret the grandiose phrases of Verdi’s music, orchestral selections from the opera, Don Carlos, performed by the Opus One Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gary Sheldon. The movements are frenetic during the arpeggiated woodwind passages, flowing and elongated as the strings enter and dignified with the entrances of the brass.
Tchaikovsky’s familiar Serenade for Strings, offers the musical inspiration for a lush ballet—the first Balanchine created after coming to America—again featuring a large female corps, dressed in long, white billowing tutus designed by Karinska. While Balanchine’s choreography is traditional in every sense, the clean, statuesque lines of the costumes instantly give this ballet a contemporary update.
Again, the corps serves primarily an “architectural” role, often framing the soloists, pas de deux and trios, performed brilliantly today by Katia Carranza, Ashley Knox, Sarah McCahill, Jovani Fulan and Didier Bramaz.
The centerpiece of Program I is Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. Set to a collection of challenging piano works by contemporary Romanian composer Gyorgy Ligeti—and performed expertly by Francisco Renno—arguably one of the most important new ballets in the repertoire and a sign of Lopez’s commitment to new works.
Like Ligeti’s music, which is, at times, atonal and percussive and others, lyrical and balladic, Wheeldon’s choreography is always rooted in tradition, yet not afraid to push boundaries. Polyphonia features an ensemble of eight dancers, all dressed in dark purple leotards, who engage in a series of fast paced vignettes that are breathtaking and accentuated by dramatic lighting design from Mark Stanley.
As the ensemble begins, they are lit from downstage, casting giant shadows on the backdrop and creating an illusion of scores of giant dancers entangled in Wheeldon’s creative poses. Then, as smaller groups take the stage, the lighting sets the mood for intimate pas de deux (Arc in ciel, featuring Katia Carranza and Chase Swatosh, and Hopp ide tisztan, with Emily Bromberg and Bramaz) and a male duet, Vivace Energico, performed flawlessly by Furlan and Michael Sean Breeden. Throughout the ballet, the men effortlessly lift the women in what can only be described as complex “maneuvers” that perfectly capture the nuances of Ligeti’s music.
With prominent roles in both Serenade and Polyphonia, today’s performance belonged to Furlan, a young Brazilian member of the corps de ballet who has a bright future with MCB.If You GoMiami City BalletProgram I: First VenturesKravis Center, West Palm Beach
Friday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 17, 1 p.m.
Tickets $20-95 at Kravis.org or MiamiCityBallet.org JW Arnold