I spent practically the whole weekend at Miami City Ballet (at City Center). Wow, what a great, world-class company! They presented two programs of almost all Balanchine (one Tharp) and they really brought Balanchine to life for me. The company’s director is Edward Villella, who performed with Balanchine and was a very renowned dancer in the fifties and sixties, still considered by many to be the greatest American male dancer ever. He was there of course and took bows with the dancers. Twyla Tharp was also there for the program showing her In The Upper Room, bouncing around during the curtain calls in jeans and sneakers with her gray hair tied back into a pony tail, and of course her signature glasses. What fun!
Anyway, program one was: the excellent Symphony in Three Movements (my first time seeing it), La Valse (also my first time — gorgeous ballet), and Tharp’s Room; program two was: Square Dance, “Rubies” (the second section of Jewels), and Symphony in C.
My favorites were mostly from the first program.
Symphony in Three Movements is one of Balanchine’s leotard ballets, set to Stravinksy’s intense, almost Rite of Spring-like music, that’s mainly story-less but nevertheless very dramatic. The first section was loaded with these runs turning into sideways jumps that looked very cat-like, playful, but at times almost sinister. Both women and men would run at each other then twist their bodies and jump to the side, nearly missing each other. The second section was slower with some really beautiful with partnering, with a man and woman looking at times like they were swimming over one another. And the third was a climactic combination of the two. Solist Alex Wong really stood out to me — he seemed to infuse his movement — those runs and jumps — with added suspense. He seemed cute and jocular but up to no good, and you wondered what he was about to do.
La Valse was really tragically gorgeous. Set to Maurice Ravel, it begins with these women in long, luscious, lavender ballroom gowns made of long tulle that billowed through the air whenever they turned. It’s kind of a carnival-like atmosphere but set at a Viennese-like imperial ball. Later, a woman dressed in white, bride-like and innocent, enters and dances with a man in black tux. He sweeps her off her feet, seduces her, gives her a necklace, which at first she rejects until she sees herself in the mirror, transformed. Eventually, they Viennese Waltz (“Valse” is “Waltz” in German), and she spins and spins, eventually whipping herself into a frenzy and collapsing, dead. The ballet ends as she is carried off by a group of men, who hoist her high above their heads, like pall-bearers, the women in the beautiful lavender dancing around her sadly.
It’s all the more tragic when you learn that Tanaquil le Clerc, Balanchine’s muse and wife, danced the role of the bride — he created it for her and it became her signature part — and that she collapsed one evening after a night of intense dancing, became paralyzed, learned that she had polio, and never danced — or walked — again. Balanchine eventually divorced her for his new muse, Suzanne Farrell.
The afternoon ended with Tharp’s super-charged Room, and I realized when I saw it what a perfect ballet it would have been for this Inauguration. There are several different “types” of dancers all interspersed with each other — the aerobicists (aerobics was popular when Tharp made the ballet in the early 90s), the “boxers”, of course the ballet dancers doing their beautiful chaine turns and pirouettes and lovely fish dives amidst the boxers punching their fists to the air and the aerobicists energetically running and jumping. It has an and-we-all-come-together-in-the-end feel to it and, with the Philip Glass music with its swells and crescendos, especially toward the end, and the two dancers punching their fists in to the air in the final scene, it just has such a celebratory feel to it.
As for the second program, they did very well with “Rubies” — Renato Penteado, Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Allynne Noelle were all excellent — but I don’t like it when “Rubies is performed on its own! I like it when it’s performed as it was originally intended — with the other two ballet “jewels” — which I wrote about here; otherwise it looks out of context, like only a celebration of American ballet, without the French and Russian as well.
My favorite dance of the day was Symphony in C, one of Balanchine’s homage to Imperial Russia ballets with the gorgeously ornate Karinska tutus. Overall, those are my favorite of his ballets. I liked Square Dance too, and Balanchine’s genius at combining American folk dance (square dancing was then popular) with classical ballet was really made plain. I do wonder if contemporary audiences see that genius though, since square dancing is not the social dance du jour. That is the challenge, I think, for contemporary choreographers: not to try to repeat or mimic Balanchine, but to combine ballet with today’s home-grown dances (that themselves evolved from earlier social dances) to create something original to be understood and hopefully beloved by a new generation.