The white walls and well-trod floor of a light-pierced studio at Miami City Ballet enclose a charmed space — a field of incalculable energy. Inside, sets of coupled dancers rehearse in quick succession two company premieres for their second program of the season, opening Friday. On the schedule this day: the antic maneuvers of Calcium Light Night, Peter Martins’ 1977 choreographic debut, and Carousel Pas de Deux, a fairground for spinning passions, from the end of Kenneth MacMillan’s career.
In Calcium, Nathalia Arja and Kleber Rebello take the area closest to the mirrors to work out curious sequences of movement: arms spread like supersensitive antennae, one leg entwining the other, chests up for jackrabbit jumps, lots of foot flexion. Muscle-steeling tension leads to languid fold-overs. Chase Swatosh and Lauren Fadeley, putting individual zing on this duet, shadow their colleagues.
The dancers are on their own today. But personal study and previous coaching from Nilas Martins (Peter’s son) have obviously come to help — all the better for them to obey rhythm, not let a single accent slip, and dish out attitude. In the unforgiving momentum, this focused foursome keeps breathlessness and fibrillation at bay. It’s true that chunks of the Charles Ives score, as bristling and translucent as quartz, for now have been slowed down to ensure the accuracy of moves. Yet the choreography remains tricky.
“The first time I saw this, I went, What? I honestly wasn’t sure what I was seeing,” Arja confesses. “I had to watch a video of the dance over and over, even while having dinner! It was difficult learning this musically. Luckily, Nilas broke it down for us, coming up with counts. He was amazing.”
Now Arja, with vigilant doe eyes, reveals she not only has internalized all of that calculation but also can communicate it, glancing at her partner’s placement and even telegraphing adjustments to Fadeley, her conspirator in the fastidious action, who jokes about how this prickly choreography can bedevil a ballerina.
“I’ve never done anything like it,” Arja agrees. “A lot of shifts have to come together. And you can’t just go with impulses; you have to think and move. You have to be very precise, strong, and sharp. It leaves you really tired.”
As a contender in the male role in both duets on MCB’s program, Swatosh adds, “Calcium is the stark opposite of Carousel. It’s cut-and-dried. Though the moves in Carousel are bigger, fuller — the technical demands more obvious — there’s a freedom to it that makes me more relaxed. Calcium feels barer, and the tempos and concentrated phrases are really challenging. You have to have a lot of clarity.”
The Broadway-tempered pas de deux from Carousel was excerpted from the historic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, rechoreographed in 1992 by MacMillan for a National Theatre revival in London that debuted a few weeks before his death. The concert piece features Louise, the main characters’ troubled daughter, in a lustful encounter with an appealing cad.
As Swatosh goes on to rehearse this with Samantha Hope Galler, the studio becomes charged with emotion. The music glides through the dreamy ballad “If I Loved You,” but there are also darker strains here — the hazard of erotic pursuits MacMillan was masterful at presenting. “I researched various versions of the ballet,” Galler says, “and in MacMillan, the going toward seduction, then regret, is more pronounced. I wanted to open that up. It’s my favorite type of role.”
While still adjusting to Swatosh, a first-time partner, Galler injects athletic feats with real feeling. “This is about going into someone else’s world,” she says. “But since there are no sets, I must project the situation — letting the audience imagine the scene through me.”
Reflecting on the company’s upcoming program, MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez points out the need not only for balance — thus the contrasting duets at the center of the show — but also for perfect-fit performances. “The Broadway musical is seamless,” she says. “But Calcium is jagged, not comfortable. You really have to have the right cast for the in-your-face quality to come across. I feel we have dancers with the right personality for that now.”
As an original New York City Ballet cast member of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces, another ingenious company premiere on the bill, Lopez attests to the value of boundary-stretching choreography for dancers. She recalls an a-ha moment when, after all the sweat equity in the studio, performance with the graph-sheet backdrop and workaday costumes gave the Robbins ballet “a sort of pixilated look. I thought, My God, this is Jerry’s response to the rise in technology. I look at the ballet now and realize how forward-thinking it was.”
Robbins biographer Deborah Jowitt explains how having fallen under the spell of both downtown dance and contemporary composers, the choreographer hit upon this big-group work, merging classicism with minimalism, set to the brief motifs and spiraling structure of Phillip Glass’s music, including the march from his opera Akhnaten.
Lopez praises the groundbreaking power of the ballet’s three parts, which she can summarize with the clarity of a significant episode in her dancing life. “In the first section, the corps has a lot of walking steps, and then, among them, come three couples — six angels — which to me are the artists who influence where the mass movement is going. While a couple is dancing a very romantic pas de deux, the second section has a line of females silhouetted in the background following a very exact sequence of moves, with minimal changes and difficult to learn, which I see as equations that are the same except for tiny variations. The third section becomes tribal, grounded in the downbeat, and this takes us back to our roots.”
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Serenade will round out her company’s offerings. History-making as Balanchine’s first choreography in America, this work already pulls the old European dance form toward a novel phase in the New World. But the work also brings a strong hue of academic classicism, nicely setting off the accompanying pieces.
“Putting this very varied program together,” Lopez says, “I wanted the audience to understand that, yes, all of this is ballet.”
— Guillermo Perez, Artburstmiami.com
Miami City Ballet Program II
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 13 and 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, January 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts, Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Tickets cost $20 to $99.
8 p.m. Saturday, February 4, and 2 p.m. Sunday, February 5, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20 to $189. Visit miamicityballet.org.