Miami City Ballet’s Year of the Rabbit Is Like a Birthday Gift on the Chinese New Year

Toby Lerner Ansin, founder of Miami City Ballet (MCB), compares choreographer Justin Peck to famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine. “Every time you see their choreography, and depending on where you sit when you watch the ballet, you’ll take away something different,” Ansin says.

For the founder's 70th birthday, her family launched the Toby Lerner Ansin Scholarship Fund. So how could they top themselves for her 75th this year? The Ansin Foundation underwrote MCB’s acquisition of Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, which Miami City Ballet will premiere during its own 30th season this Friday as part of Program III.

This is Peck’s second work for New York City Ballet (NYCB), where the young rising star is resident choreographer. Year of the Rabbit had its premiere in October 2012 and is an elaboration of Peck’s Tales of a Chinese Zodiac, which he created in 2010 for the New York Choreographic Institute.

As an Ansin family tradition, milestone birthday gifts for their mother must include something that involves MCB, the company she helped create in 1985 with $7,000 from contributions. The ballet now has a $17 million budget.

“In selecting Year of the Rabbit, we had spoken with Lourdes [Lopez, director of MCB] about possibilities of what might be the most fitting, and I saw that this breakthrough work was on the calendar,” Ansin explains. (The Chinese New Year was Monday, February 8, which actually marks the Year of the Monkey.) “My family knows that I just adore and admire Justin Peck’s work.”

It was 2011 when NYCB company ballet master Peter Martins appointed Peck choreographer-in-residence at the New York Choreographic Institute, and three years later, he was chosen to become only the second active resident choreographer in the history of the famous company.

“Justin [Peck] had done his pas de deux Chutes and Ladders with us and then Heatscape [which he created last year as a new work with MCB]. I got a chance to meet with him and talk to him,” Ansin says enthusiastically, like someone who has rubbed shoulders with her favorite celebrity.

Though involved in the development side for much of the 30 years of MCB, Ansin displays in-depth knowledge of the creative side of ballet too. “I saw a rehearsal with him working with the dancers for Year of the Rabbit. He comes into the studio, and he’s able to talk with the dancers about the piece. He looks at whom he is working with, and then he may change something here and there.

"We’re the first company [outside of NYCB] to be able to perform Year of the Rabbit ],” she says with pride.

Ansin will watch the performance from a few vantage points. Friday and Saturday, she’ll observe from orchestra seats. At the Sunday matinee, she’ll get a different perspective from box seats. “When you watch from a box seat or mezzanine, you have a totally different experience than when you view the ballet from an orchestra seat.”

Along with featuring Rabbit, Program III will also include Paul Taylor’s Sunset — a modern dance premiered in the 1980s that centers on a dreamy scenario of soldiers readying to leave their women behind and often considered Taylor’s most sublime work — and in MCB fashion, a classic Balanchine, the French-style Bourrée Fantasque

– Michelle F. Solomon, artburstmiami.com

Miami City Ballet’s Program III
Featuring ‘Year of the Rabbit,’ Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The performance then moves to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale February 20 to 21 and the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach February 26 to 28. Tickets cost $25 to $94. Visit miamicityballet.org.

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