By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Voice Media Group
By John Thomason
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It's the dance homecoming of the year, except Jimmy Gamonet de los Heros didn't really have to go anywhere.
"I love Miami," says Gamonet. "I've been very fortunate to be able to work in New York, Europe, and Latin America, but this is where I want to build a company." His is no outlandish dream. Gamonet was born in Peru but is now a Miamian and plans to remain one. During his time as the resident choreographer for the Miami City Ballet, he created 30 original works between its founding in 1986 and his departure in 2000. Now with several NEA fellowships and major international successes under his belt, Gamonet is ready to "offer Miami something different from Miami City Ballet."
"There's a contemporary edge to what we're doing," states Gamonet. "Something new." The catch is that his is not exactly a new company.
In the latest of several fast and furious developments that could radically change the South Florida dance scene, Ballet Gamonet Maximum Dance makes its debut October 7 at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami. Perhaps you missed the much-ballyhooed powerhouse dance merger earlier this year that joined Gamonet and Maximum Dance -- a company founded in 1997 by David Palmer and Yanis Pikieris.
Gamonet decided he was ready to begin a company of his own. He secured rehearsal space and a hefty grant from the City of Miami at the same time Palmer and Pikieris's energetic company found itself in dire need of funding. Right from the beginning, the whole affair smelled like a kitchen with too many chefs. As things turned out, Palmer and Pikieris left Maximum Dance and rejoined Miami City Ballet's artistic team. Gamonet, missed to the point of cult-worship by local dance lovers since his departure from Miami City Ballet, found himself completely in charge. He increased the number of dancers from nine to fourteen, and he hired the barely retired prima ballerina of Miami City Ballet, Iliana Lopez, as the new company's ballet mistress. He's choreographing a world premiere to mark their explosion onto the scene, and bringing back his acclaimed girl-on-girl action duet Purple Bend I, set to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (there's also a guy-on-guy version called Purple Bend II, just so you know). He has planned an ambitious season, this first gig being no exception, with a view to nurturing new works and creating a unique style.
"There are a lot of new faces in the company," says Gamonet, "from Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, and Cuba." The company's Hispanic feel is a happy accident. "You don't look for stereotypes; you just look for talent. In the Seventies it was the Russians," laughs Gamonet. "Today it's Latin Americans."
Ballet Gamonet Maximum Dance is not unique in dancing with a Hispanic accent: The rosters of virtually every major ballet company in the West, from San Francisco to London, read like a Miami-Dade County phone book. Gamonet's cosmopolitan, Latin-flavored company fits well in the Miami milieu.
Tall, dark, and slender, the mature but decidedly adventuresome Gamonet says he's in a good place. Maybe he's right not to dwell on the backstory of his recent success -- no matter how juicy the gossip -- the secret negotiations, and plain old backstabbing. "It's all been told," says Gamonet. "Now it's time to dance."
True, the two founders of Maximum Dance are out of the picture, and Pikieris has even said, "It's Jimmy's company." But it's clear that this latest development might be a win-win prospect for South Florida dance lovers: There is every indication that both the newly christened Ballet Gamonet Maximum Dance and Miami City Ballet will grow as a result. Gamonet will have a free hand to do exactly what he wants -- offer fans "something new, a departure from the classical vocabulary but with that tension to return to the classical foundation always there.
"I'm more into bringing new things to life," Gamonet says, "than into trying to showcase someone else's work. We're trying to create work here, not re-create. We don't want to become a museum company -- not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just not what I want to do."
On the other hand, the original Maximum Dance could hardly be called a museum. In fact, before economic woes forced them to scale back their artistic reach during the last couple of seasons, Palmer and Pikieris had already shown signs of precious promise in their choice of repertory: early twentieth-century ballet chestnuts such as Diana and Acteon and Scheherezade alongside contemporary classics by Maurice Béjart and Mark Morris, as well as fascinating glimpses into new American choreography by Val Caniparoli and Julia Adam. So despite the lukewarm critical reception of Palmer and Pikieris's original choreography, these guys have a good feel for what's out there and particularly for what Miami is lacking.
The return of Palmer and Pikieris to Miami City Ballet with a mission to create a contemporary dance series for their alma mater could be an artistic shot in the arm for what is perhaps the most exciting Balanchine museum this side of New York City Ballet. Definitely worth keeping an eye on are Pikieris and Palmer, as well as the growth of Miami City Ballet's 21st-century repertory if the dynamic duo is given a free hand.
In the meantime, all attention is on this week's debut of the bigger-than-ever, chutzpah-fueled, shamelessly theatrical, and admirably ambitious new Ballet Gamonet Maximum Dance. "It's hard," says Gamonet. "This business is risky: You never know what will happen. You just bring the best quality entertainment you can, and you hope it will be embraced."
"And that's what it is. It is art, of course," Gamonet adds. "But it is entertainment."