On Friday, The Miami City Ballet presented the world preview of "Euphotic," the most recent work of Liam Scarlett, artist-in-residence at London's Royal Ballet. Scarlett has an intimate relation with the Miami City Ballet as well as Miami audiences. Almost exactly a year ago, Miami City Ballet presented another world premiere of Scarlett's work, "Viscera." It was received so enthusiastically by both audience and critics that some feared "Euphotic" might disappoint.
The work is a kaleidoscopic wonder where dancers' movements are hard geometric lines that become utterly fluid. At times the dancers might be made of glass; then they are organic shapes, strange and exquisite ones moving in the ebb and flows of deep waters.
As the ballet begins, nearly all of "Euphotic"'s 28 dancers are facing away from the audience and toward three large columns and a color field of greens and blues. It is as though the audience is able to glimpse a ritual done in secret. At intervals throughout the ballet, the dancers continue to turn away, until at some point the audience realizes that whatever ritual they felt privileged to witness is far older than anything those columns might suggest. Scarlett and his dancers have managed to bring the audience deep into the undisturbed primordial. The audience is seeing what human eyes have never seen.
Still, Scarlett has taken the name of his ballet from what scientists have designated the uppermost level of the sea, that layer where light has the greatest play. Not incidentally Scarlett has not only choreographed his "Euphotic" but designed the costumes and the lightning as well. And perhaps not since Impressionist painting has light played so key a role in a work of art.
Scarlett doesn't work with pools of light, but light that highlights the arms and legs of the dancers to work between glass and water.
Scarlett cites Balanchine as his greatest influence. Scarlett may be as sensitive to the interplay of music and dance as the master, for it is music rather than movement that begins Scarlett's creative process. In the case of "Euphotic," a concerto for piano and orchestra of 21st-century composer, Lowell Liebermann. On Friday night music and dance seemed as seamless as the dance itself.
Small wonder, all things considered, that the Arsht Center's program is entitled Tradition and Innovation, and includes two works by Balanchine. (The program also includes a tried and true crowd pleaser, Don Quixote Pas De Deux, which although nicely done seemed out of place.) It was with the second Balanchine presented on opening night -- not his gorgeous and very grand Divertimento No. 15 done to Mozart -- but the Duo Concertant with its Stravinsky score where the direct line between the two choreographers could most clearly be seen. MCB's Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro were sublime in a pas de deux, which shared the stage with piano and violin.
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After Balanchine, Scarlett unhesitatingly cites his fellow contemporary choreographer Kenneth MacMillan and his work with pas de deux as having a real influence of his own work. On Friday night many of the most astonishing moments of Scarlett's "Euphotic" came from the pas de deux -- or rather the pas de trois. Jeanette Delgado, whom Scarlett has called one of the world's great ballerinas, was the centerpiece of many of these partnerships. Even as she was lifted, her movements and those of her partners kept changing, becoming every time more beautiful.
"Euphotic" continues Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. It moves to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in the Au-Rene Theater, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 18 at 8 p.m., Jan. 19 at 2 and 8 p.m., and Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $175; www.miamicityballet.org.
--Elizabeth Hanly, artburstmiami.com