Miami City Ballet dazzled audiences at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach last weekend with a fascinating program of contemporary ballets, including two world premieres and a company premiere.
The Sunday matinee opened with “Diversion of Angels,” its first ballet by American pioneer Martha Graham. Set to music by American composer Norman Dello Joio, the 1948 work presents an abstract expression of three phases of love: flirtatious young love danced by a couple dressed in yellow, erotic love in red and mature love in white, accompanied by a small corps de ballet dressed in neutral beige.
Graham’s choreography is unmistakable – athletic and energetic, yet structured and well suited to Dello Joio’s contemporary, yet consonant neo-romantic score, performed by the Opus One orchestra, conducted by Gary Sheldon.
Next, José Limón’s “Pavane,” premiered by the company in 1988, offered a historical interpretation of Renaissance-era dances with a modern twist. With a score by early English Baroque composer Henry Purcell (including the famous theme that inspired Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”), the story of Othello is retold by four dancers portraying “The Moor,” “His Friend,” “His Friend’s Wife” and “The Moor’s Wife.”
Court dances of the period clearly inspired the choreography, but the story explodes with 20th century theatricality that challenges the formal structure. The male dancers dominate the work, exhibiting jealousy and rage and a homoerotic quality to the physical competition for a woman’s love.
Chase Swatosh shined in this performance in the role of the Moor’s friend, along with an earlier substitution as the couple in white in “Diversion of Angels” with Dawn Atkins. The principal soloist, a veteran of 13 seasons with the company, has matured and displayed both a mastery of classical technique and the rigor demanded by contemporary choreographers.
The two world premieres, “Resplendent Fantasy” by Amy Hall Garner and “Petrichor” by Pontus Lidberg, were both set to musical selections by minimalist composers. It’s easy to understand the allure of minimalist music. Those composers employ frenetic repeated patterns and then add or subtract other layers to vary the dynamics, slowly building to climax and then release. Choreographers then employ soloists or small groups who then converge into unison motion to punctuate those musical impacts.
Garner’s ballet, set to music by Oliver Davis, Jonathan Dove and Komitas in three movements, is grounded in classical technique, with the ballerinas en pointe, yet expressing the music with a distinctively Millennial attitude. The costumes further punctuated the contrasts with the women dressed is wispy oranges and reds and the men in turquoise blue and gray.
“Petrichor” by Lidberg, an openly gay Swede whose work was showcased last year in “Men Who Dance” at the Broward Center, closed the program, creating a more abstract vision.
The large cast, dressed in multicolored costumes by Andrea Spiridonakos, seemed to evoke a painter’s palette. Projections on a scrim at the back of the stage similarly appeared to suggest paints dissolving into a glass of water, the hue changing to suit the mood of Philip Glass’s unusually restrained, yet challenging Violin Concerto and performed expressively by Mei Mei Luo.
As could be expected, Lidberg stuck to the conventions of modern choreography to minimalist music, showcasing each of the dancers and then returning them to an almost architectural assembly, only to disperse again with the same manic movements. While his approach was somewhat predictable, the sophistication of his work was never lost.
Miami City Ballet performs “Modern Masters” at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, March 4 – 5. For tickets, go to BrowardCenter.org.