Emotions ran high even before the dancing started. Lourdes Lopez, Miami City Ballet's artistic director, stepped in front of the curtain Valentine's night to speak lovingly about her two teachers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and announce that George Chakiris was in the audience.
Chakiris, who starred as Riff in the original West End production of West Side Story and won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bernardo in what is now considered the best-ever film version of a stage musical, enjoyed the evening's longest ovation. Balanchine and Robbins, two of whose works the company was about to dance for the first time, also must have been smiling somewhere in dance heaven. The dancing that followed was indeed often heavenly.
The two company premieres were Balanchine's Episodes and Robbins' West Side Story Suite, book-ending the company staple Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. After its opening weekend at the Arsht Center in Miami, the "Triple Threat" program continues this weekend at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale, and February 28 through March 2 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
See also: Ballet Dancers Sing? Miami City Ballet Learns New Tricks for West Side Story Suite
Episodes, staged here by Patricia Neary and Peter Frame, was perfect. Its glow was like that of an endless sunset, lending more than a touch of sensuality and unease on the whole evening.
The piece itself needs explaining. What began as an unlikely collaboration between Balanchine and Martha Graham was soon shorn of its Graham component, but kept a male solo Balanchine created for a then-Graham dancer, none other than Paul Taylor. New York City Ballet's current ballet master, Peter Martins, has since dropped the Taylor solo -- an inexplicable lapse that now makes Miami City Ballet the only American company dancing a complete Episodes.
That is newsworthy in itself, but the real news is how Episodes reaffirmed that Miami City Ballet is one of the world's great Balanchine troupes. Anton von Webern's score -- a 12-tone kaleidoscope until the final, highly-emotional Ricercata -- suffused the whole affair with an eerie serenity as the black-and-white geometries drawn by the dancers' bodies began taking shape. This Balanchine ballet embodies the mid-century New York Zeitgeist. The precision and improbable sexiness the whole company brought was breathtaking, above all by Jennifer Kronenberg and Reyneris Reyes. This couple's seductive dialectic of repulsion and attraction got to the heart of Episodes.
What of the famed Taylor solo? Kudos to Peter Frame for coaching it but also for casting Jovani Furlan. This Brazilian corps de ballet member had the technical requirements, but there was something more going on here, a mischievousness within the balletic contortions that brought a smile. Paul Taylor, the man and the choreographer, has that air of mischief. That's something you can't teach.
The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is a curious piece, and it received a curious performance. Danced by Nathalia Arja and Renan Cerdeiro, it occasionally flirted with disaster and was definitely too careful for its own good in the two pas de poisson.
The genius of Robbins becomes apparent in his 1995 West Side Story Suite. He found a way to preserve some of the dances from that masterpiece and to see them outside a fully-staged production. It is a challenge for a ballet company to enter into a Broadway gypsy mold, in this case made especially difficult because the film adaptation was directed by Robbins and in some ways even improved on his own choreography. The Suite isolates the dances, adds a new "Something's Coming" for Tony, and restores the "Somewhere" dream ballet that was dropped from the film. Jean-Pierre Frolich staged it in Miami, with mixed results. The singing from the pit was inadequate, muting the glories of Leonard Bernstein's soaring melodies. On paper, Reyneris Reyes seemed like an ideal Bernardo, but the role did not come naturally to him. He was stiff long before he got stabbed.
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On the other hand, Jeremy Cox's Riff, the gang leader of the Jets, could easily step into a Broadway revival of the real West Side Story. Even more of a fun surprise was Jeanette Delgado's Anita, who gave her all to the role, especially in "America." That girl's got chispa.
In the finale, the dream ballet set to "Somewhere," the entire company emerged into the sunlight these urban youths would never know, and they sang. All of them sang, and the magic of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, the unstoppable force of Robbins, came alive at the final curtain.
"Triple Threat," Miami City Ballet's Program 3, continues this weekend at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Ft. Lauderdale and February 28 through March 2 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd.,
West Palm Beach; tickets range from $20 to $175; for times and tickets, miamicityballet.org.