“Of course you can be a prince on stage, but you can be an animal as well? Can you move like a snake, move like a tiger?”
With that, a wiry, energized Miao Zong — guest choreographer with Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida — demonstrated the proper technique for a chest-high lift with a willowy Hinano Eto, and then stepped back, watching as Kazuya Arima partnered her through the same sequence.
With the company’s season opener, Dancing to Prokofiev and Ravel, on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center less than a week away, all eyes remained fixed on Zong as he worked through the combination with Eto and Arima. Zong then signaled for music and all six couples embraced, stretched out from shared centers, and went into a lift and pivot to the last repetitions of Ravel’s Bolero. As the snare drums repeated the music’s iconic rhythm, the six couples restarted the sequence and began to circle the floor.
Zong sees his main challenge working with Arts Ballet Theatre to be their classical training. “I coach them on being natural but going bigger,” he says as he cups his hands at his chest and then expands outward, “to make even their fingers begin talking.” Zong conceives of dance movement as waves crashing on the beach, each one pushing the one before it to expand out further.
Pausing the rehearsal, Zong mimics the quick glances some dancers make to keep their spacing regular. He assures them they don’t need to fret, that their lines are sharp and then retakes his stool.
“They are motivated and want to learn,” he says. “They were a little mechanical when we started a couple weeks ago, but not today.”
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The roots of the present collaboration stretch back 20 years, when Zong first met current Arts Ballet Theatre director, Vladimir Issaev. At the time, Russian-born Issaev was director of the Ballet Naçional de Caracas. Zong feels the experience in Venezuela defined him creatively: “I learned there how to be a choreographer for artists, people who make movement from their hearts.” Zong and Issaev met up last year in Germany during the company’s tour there, and Issaev invited Zong to collaborate on the 2016 season opener.
Before wrapping up, Zong coaches principal dancer, Mary Carmen Catoya, through the concluding phrases of a piano concerto by Venezuelan pianist Aldemaro Romero. In first position at the center of the floor, Catoya mirrors the snake-like movements of Zong’s torso and arms. They continue to mirror each other as Zong walks toward her. Finally he embraces her in time to the music’s last chords.
Hair bright red, arms crossed, a confident Luana Hidalgo — ballet mistress for the company –– sees the partnership with Zong as a boon for the dancers.
“This morning some people came to observe the rehearsals,” she said. “I don’t think they expected the energy. Their eyes opened wide and as the dancers began to move. I watched as they leaned forward further and further — I thought they would fall over.”
Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida’s Program I, Dancing to Prokofiev and Ravel
Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 3 p.m., at the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center (3385 NE 188th St. Aventura). The program continues Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 16 at 3 p.m., at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Amaturo Theater (201 SW 5th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale). Tickets cost $30. Call 954-462-0222 or go to aventuracenter.org or browardcenter.org.