Miami City Ballet's Fire and Ice: A White Urkel, A Sexy Greek God, and an Encouraging Start to the Season

Before the Miami City Ballet dancers performed for the first time without founder Edward Villella last night, new artistic director Lourdes Lopez took the stage to give thanks. Declaring that she was "back home," Lopez reminisced about growing in up a very different Miami -- one without MOCA, or the Colony Theatre, New World Symphony or the Arsht Center. 

Since then, the arts scene in town has grown -- and is still growing -- in exciting ways, she declared, saying "I have a responsibility to continue the ongoing cultural development of South Florida."

It was a heartfelt, emotional speech -- at times, it seemed Lopez was so overwhelmed with honor that she might cry -- looking both to the past and to the future. And it perfectly foreshadowed the ballets we were about to witness -- one that felt vintage, ornate, and Victorian; one classically stripped-down; and one modern dance hybrid.

Les Patineurs (The Skating Party) took the stage first, featuring dancers bobbing their heads as they mimicked ice skating across a stage decorated with white arches and lifelike-looking tree branch backdrops, elegantly lit with paper lanterns. In the hands of MCB, Sir Frederick Ashton's choreography seemed silly but self-aware; the dancers, costumed in heavy winter vest rimmed with fur, seemed almost to be laughing at themselves as they bobbed about. A few awkward laughs even broke out across the audience. 

Renato Penteado as "The Boy in Blue" played a Puck-like figure frolicking around the imagined ice skating rink, almost like a dancing Steve Urkel; his signature move -- an exaggerated shrug with palms facing upward -- seemed to say, "Did I do that?" 

"The Girls in Blue" (Nathalia Arja and Jennifer Lauren),on the other hand, wowed the crowd with their stamina, spinning on pointe for long enough for the crowd to notice, gasp in awe, begin clapping, and increase that applause to a roar. (And this is an audience of staid ballet people, remember -- it takes a real jaw-dropper to get them on their feet.)

Light and airy, Les Patineurs had a whimsical quality, but its ornate costuming had the unfortunate effect of obscuring the dancers' bodies as they moved -- all the way down to the slippers with fur trim, looking like they were designed by Ugg. While the costumes helped to set the scene (which also included falling snow at the end of the performance), we were grateful for the next act's more simplistic attire.

George Balanchine's 1928 work Apollo was next, and couldn't have been more different from its predecessor. Here, only four dancers performed, each dressed in simple white. Renan Cerdeiro, as Apollo, expertly leapt across the stage while performing some rather suggestive movements with a lute. (Is that an ancient Greek string instrument you're holding, or are you just happy to see us?) He conjures muses Patricia Delgado, Tricia Albertson, and Jeanette Delgado for a series of short solos. 

But the real magic of Balanchine's choreography is in the combination of Apollo and his muses dancing together, creating spectacular tryptichs looking like moving marble statues. It's a beautiful paen to the creative spirit; when the dancers pose at the end, looking and reaching skyward, you're inspired to thank whatever god you believe in right along with them.

The final ballet of the night was also the most modern: the tango-flavored Piazzola Caldera, first performed in 1997 by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. MCB's program notes say that the work contains no authentic tango steps; instead, we saw dancers paying homage to the Argentine dance in posture, stomping, leg kicks during lifts. MCB also underscored the link with its costumes, featuring dark, flowery skirts fluttering up to reveal garter stockings; flowers tucked into the dancers' buns; and high-heeled tango shoes swapped in for traditional ballet slippers.

From its West Side Story-esque opening number featuring sexy mamas squaring off against macho, vest-wearing caballeros, to the plight of a lonely soloist searching for a partner in all the wrong places, to the dancers playing two drunk characters who managed to stumble over each other gracefully, MCB closed out its debut performance of the season with modern, unique movements, sizzling music and attitude, and tons of Latin flavor.

Lourdes Lopez, you are indeed home.

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