In its 2016 opener, Miami City Ballet offered a profound survey of the evolution of modern classical music and dance.
Program II, performed last weekend at Miami’s Arsht Center and coming to the Broward and Kravis Centers over successive weekends, features three distinct ballets: George Balanchine’s “La Source,” set to music by Leo Delibes; followed by Peter Martins’ “Barber Violin Concerto; and Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” with original musical score by Philip Glass.
“La Source” is in all ways the epitome of classical ballet, one of the famed choreographer’s “pink ballets,” and set to the elegant music of French romantic composer Delibes.
A series of short orchestral movements composed in 1866 and 1876, “La Source” opened the Sunday matinee with Tricia Albertson and Renato Penteado performing a subdued pas de deux followed by spritely solos from the dancers. Penteado was a dashing cavalier throughout, showcasing both his talents and his partner, Albertson. The ballet is classic Balanchine highlighted by his signature architectural formations as the corps joins soloist Leanna Rinaldi in later movements.
Peter Martins’ 1988 “Barber Violin Concerto” offered audiences a juxtaposition of the traditional and the avant-garde. Composed in 1941, Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14”—performed flawlessly by Mei Mei Luo and the Opus One Orchestra—expanded the harmonic and rhythmic bounds of a 300-year-old musical form.
Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter opened with the more conventional first movement, a traditional pas de deux and dressed in classical attire, tights and shoes. In the second movement, as Barber begins pushing the musical bounds, barefoot Nathalia Arja and a bare-chested, svelte Chase Swatosh took the stage, introducing cat-like, modern motions that accentuate the musical accents in a literal manner.
In the third and fourth movements, the dancers then switched partners, tempting the other with the order of traditional choreography and the spontaneous joy of contemporary dance. Surprisingly, there is no “resolution” to the curious juxtapositions with the curtain falling to thunderous applause from the small, but enthusiastic matinee audience.
Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez selected Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” to close the program. While not technically the oldest (1986) ballet on the program, it was set to the minimalist composer’s 1986 suite, an experiment in calculated, undulating sound as various musical phrases are repeated incessantly with only minor changes. The audience immediately realized the creative process had taken great leaps since Barber’s concerto.
Tharp’s choreography draws classical ballet, ballroom, jazz and even hip hop influences, ebbing and flowing with the slow crescendos and decrescendos in the score, danced to a recording of the impossibly difficult work. Sometimes the dance continued during the pauses between musical movements.
The dance was at times fierce and relentless like Glass’s score, a visual cacophony at times as the entire company entered and exited, marching, skipping, leaping and turning.
Dancers entered the smoky Ziff stage from both wings and upstage in ensembles of twos, threes and more. All began dressed in black and white striped shirts and pants originally conceived by costume designer Norma Kamali. With successive movements, groups of dancers first entered in red toe shoes and eventually red tank tops, pants and dresses made their appearances.
Miami City Ballet repeats Program II with works by Balanchine, Martins and Tharp at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, Jan. 16 – 17, and at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Jan. 29 – 31. For show times and tickets, go to MiamiCityBallet.org.