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With Mike Piazza, Miami City Ballet Jazzes Up Its Step

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The Miami City Ballet Company (MCB) will close its 2012-2013 season this weekend at the Arsht Center with Broadway and Ballet, a valentine to Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. No surprise there, since the MCB has been acclaimed far and wide for its devotion to the masters, especially Balanchine. What makes this program so delicious is the unpredictable pairing of the works as well as the works themselves.

The first part of the performance belongs to Jerome Robbins. So successful was he as a choreographer of Broadway musicals -- West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I are only a sampling of his handiwork -- that it is easy to forget that Robbins loved ballet as well. And ballet as pure as it gets: that's what his "Dances at a Gathering" is all about.

See also:

- Mike Piazza to Perform With Miami City Ballet: "It's Going to Be a Lot of Fun"

- Here's Mike Piazza Performing a Fish Dive in Miami City Ballet Rehearsals (VIDEO)

Originally created by Robbins in 1969 and set to the piano music of Chopin, it marked his return to more classical forms, most particularly pas de deux. The ballet has no props, and hardly any set. Five couples came together in no less than 18 movements, nearly all of them waltzes and Slavic mazurkas. This "Gathering," in the hands of the rotating cast of MCB, which includes Jeanette and Patricia Delgado as well as Renato Penteado, is a nearly encyclopedic examination of flirtation. One may as often sigh at its sheer beauty of a piece as laugh aloud at its wit. There are the twists that Robbins was so fond of: a gesture at odds with the lyricism of a movement that manages to zap up its impact. And there are the times when flirtation becomes surrender. Look out then.

If the evening begins with elegance and a delight in non-narrative movement not ordinarily associated with Jerome Robbins, the evening ends with bawdiness and very nearly a funk not ordinarily associated with Balanchine. His ballet, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," was originally a play within a play, part of a Rodgers and Hart Broadway hit, On Your Toes from the 1930s. Several decades later Balanchine dusted off his work and expanded it into a stand-alone ballet filled with ladies of easy virtue, silly coppers, sly gangsters and a very deadly competition between two male dancers centering far more on their skill as dancers than any issues of romantic attachment. The real question seems to be, can a great classical dancer become a great hoofer if circumstances demand.

Yep. Especially with a little help from one's friends, or in this case one Phillip Neil, tap-dancer, former New York City Ballet principal and current South Florida resident. Suddenly -- that is after a bit of tutelage -- several MCB members including the great Yann Trividic, become the irrepressible hoofers and jazzistas "Slaughter" demands. Patricia Delgado, dancing in very high heels, plays the love interest in a climax that could wake the dead.

If all this weren't enough, on Friday night, the part of gangster gunman will be played by retired Major League Baseball catcher extraordinaire, Mike Piazza. He promises no errors.

Miami City Ballet's Program IV Broadway and Ballet, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; tickets range from $20 to $175; arshtcenter.org.

--Elizabeth Hanly, artburstmiami.com

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