Dance

Miami City Ballet's Season Closer Features a World Premiere Amid a Thought-Provoking Program

Alexander Peters and Miami City Ballet dancers in George Balanchine’s "Prodigal Son."
Alexander Peters and Miami City Ballet dancers in George Balanchine’s "Prodigal Son." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev
Miami City Ballet's season closer Prodigal Son features a program of four works: "The Source," a world premiere by Claudia Schreier and director Adam Barish, followed by Christopher Wheeldon's 2005 "After the Rain pas de deux," along with a company premiere of William Forsythe's 1992 "Herman Schmerman Duet" before closing with George Balanchine's 1929 story ballet, "Prodigal Son."

The program pairs two notably different narrative ballets and two duets for a thoughtful program that packed emotional depth.

MCB performed Prodigal Son in West Palm Beach at the end of April and Miami earlier this month. The final performances are in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22.

The program opens with the world premiere of Atlanta Ballet resident choreographer Claudia Schreier's "The Source," a multimedia fable for 16 dancers told through dance, theater, and strikingly produced digital effects.

Film plays a key role in "The Source." Schreier's partner and filmmaker Adam Barish, as well as projection effects designer Alex Basco Koch, deserve credit for the seamless way the visual effects and dance sequences combined to narrate a story of healing.

The action starts with an oppressing scene of a port at sunrise. Dancers in oversized shirts and pants in shades of gray plod across the stage, head down, occasionally stumbling or erupting in fights. Occasionally, a viral-like streak streams down the front scrim. Many dancers hold their hands or fists to their chests as if in pain.

The narrative then transitions from the oppressive opening to an encounter with a group of beings in white that revitalized them. The piece ends back at the port with dancers interacting in an atmosphere of warmth and hope.
click to enlarge Miami City Ballet dancers Stephen Loch, Ellen Grocki, and Juliet Hay in Claudia Schreier’s world premiere of "The Source." - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Miami City Ballet dancers Stephen Loch, Ellen Grocki, and Juliet Hay in Claudia Schreier’s world premiere of "The Source."
Photo by Alexander Iziliaev
Applause from the Miami audience indicated that the work's message of grief and healing comes through across the stage.

However, "The Source" suffers some weaknesses. These include an overly simplified dance vocabulary and the randomness of some scenic and video elements. For instance, it isn't clear why the action opens and closes at a port or the significance of the repeated sun images. Ambiguities such as these distract from the work's straightforward message of healing and hope.

Next up is Christopher Wheeldon's enchanting "After the Rain pas de deux." Originally a two-part ballet performed by New York City Ballet's Jack Soto and Wendy Whelan at NYCB's annual New Combinations Evening in 2005, MCB performs the work's second half pas de deux.

Pianist Francisco Rennó and violinist Mei Mei Luo hauntingly play Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's 1978 composition, "Spiegel im Spiegel" ("mirror(s) in the mirror"). At the two Miami shows, both Hannah Fischer and Cameron Catazaro and Katia Carranza and Chase Swatosh danced this tenderness-drenched duet memorably.

The work's gorgeous lifts and quirky contortions communicate emotional intimacy through physical vulnerability, as when the woman holds a full backbend as her partner rotates her or when she stands on his bent leg, leaning forward, sweeping her arms as if flying.

Opposite in mood and approach is the company premiere of William Forsyth's "Herman Schmerman." With a title borrowed from the 1982 Steve Martin comedy, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, Forsyth famously stated the ballet "meant nothing,"

The ballet may "mean nothing," but what's important is what it "does." It mocks gender distinctions in ballet mercilessly. It gestures to how ballet as an art form is a training for gender, where differently trained male and female bodies are disciplined to fulfill expectations audiences have around gender stereotypes.
click to enlarge Cameron Catazaro and Hannah Fischer in Miami City Ballet’s "After the Rain." - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Cameron Catazaro and Hannah Fischer in Miami City Ballet’s "After the Rain."
Photo by Alexander Iziliaev
To a Thom Willems' electro-funk score with a distinctly Blade Runner vibe, the two couples — Nathalia Arja and Chase Swatosh on Friday, and Adrienne Carter (just promoted to soloist) and Steven Loch on Sunday — perform their roles powerfully, with Swatosh turning in a stand-out performance.

The pas de deux begins with the male dancer struggling to support his haughty partner, whose classical sequences demand his entire investment, blocking him from dancing. The frustration communicated by both Swatosh and Loch is tangible.

Both female and male dancers execute a quick costume change and return sporting yellow pleated Versace skirts. The male dancer executes wild sequences, and the rawness of his movements noticeably distracts his partner from her sequences.

When he again agrees to support her, he no longer offers the sculpted expertise expected from a classical male lead. She has to work within the forms of support he is willing to offer.

The program's finale is George Balanchine's 1929 "Prodigal Son." Set to composer Sergei Prokofiev's Le Fils Prodigue, the piece is one of two still performed works the choreographer created for Sergei Diaghilev's company, Ballet Russes.

The ballet opens in a Georges Rouault-designed Middle Eastern landscape with servants collecting the son's inheritance. The Prodigal — danced on the first night by Alexander Peters and Shimon Ito on the second — enters the scene ready to bolt, beating his knees, lunging to all sides with a great mimed yell before abandoning home despite the entreaties of sisters and father (performed by Cameron Catazaro).

The scene shifts to the tent of the Siren, where ape-like servants, costumed in white with skeletal accents, parade across the stage.

Their antics set up the entrance of the Siren — performed by Dawn Atkins (just promoted to principal soloist) and by Adrienne Carter.

MCB's season finale is worth seeing twice just to take in two very different takes on the Siren role, with Atkins imperiously dominating Peters and Carter emphasizing the role's carnality in her seduction of Ito.

If "The Source" suffers at points from narrative ambiguity, "Prodigal Son" presents few interpretive options. Still, the dancers generate dramatic tension so skillfully that the audience is left in suspense to the ballet's final moment, whether the father would, in fact, take his errant son back.

– Sean Erwin, ArtburstMiami.com

Miami City Ballet's "Prodigal Son." 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 21, and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 22, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave, Fort Lauderdale; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $30 to $148 via miamicityballet.org/prodigal.
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