The evening commenced with Heatscape by Justin Peck to a piano concerto by Bohuslav Martinu. I liked it. It was energetic—even the slow second movement contained frantic tosses and partnering which ran over the adagio melody—and the Miamians know from energy! The ballet was set before a big Shepard Fairey backdrop which, curiously, reminded me of a biker bandana. The lovely white shift dresses for the women and grayish shorts for the men were designed by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung—I thought Tricia Alberton’s long-sleeved version with black piping was especially pretty. Jeanette Delgado danced her thorny solo passages with real flair. Like her sister Patricia, Jeannette has an easy-going, joy-of-dance quality in performance which is so infectious. My favorite moment in the ballet was when the corps joined Albertson in the second movement for slow hops en pointe in fifth position. It was a nice riff on the second movement of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco.
Liam Scarlett’s Viscera followed, and it suffered from having a similar structure to Heatscape. It was also set to a piano concerto (by Lowell Liebermann), it also featured a cast of 16, Jeannette Delgado was back in a tricky soloist role, and the corps ran in and out in noodle-y formations like in the Peck piece. The overall feel of Viscera was much darker, but that aspect conferred ponderousness instead of drama. The long central pas de deux looked rather like a rip-off of Christopher Wheeldon’s iconic Polyphonia at times, with its purple leotards, dark lighting (by John Hall), and upside-down swastika lifts. Scarlett—like Wheeldon—has some innovative partnering ideas, but this was not his best effort.
The evening’s finale was Balanchine’s infrequently performed Bourrée Fantasque from 1949. I have always been curious about this ballet, since it is the source of the famous, glamorous photo of Tanaquil Le Clercq wielding a fan over Jerome Robbins perched on his rump. The music is by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier and the ballet reflects Balanchine’s years in Paris watching the can-can dancers at the Moulin Rouge. I can see why it has fallen out of NYCB’s repertory, for it resembles a mash-up of many of Balanchine’s other works: particularly Western Symphony (1954), Danses Concertantes (1972, after 1944), and the third movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (1966). But it was so thrilling to see a brand new (to me) Balanchine piece! And the gorgeous Karinska costumes! The witty tone and the complex geometries and musical counterpoints made by the corps de ballet were refreshing. The craftsmanship of the whole piece, which was staged for MCB by Suzy Pilarre, was excellent. Incredibly, even second-tier Balanchine is superior to the top-shelf works of many others.
The first movement was led by Jordan-Elizabeth Long and Shimon Ito in the roles created by Le Clercq and Robbins. Their pas de deux was a variation on a favorite Balanchine joke: the small guy/tall gal pairing. They were spot-on in their technique and their humor. The crisp precision of the corps was outstanding. And the short, sassy tutus worn by the women were adorable. The second movement, a lush adagio in romantic tutus, was well-danced by Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter. It was so good to see Simone back onstage in NY!
The massive finale unfolded much like that of Theme and Variations, with accumulating corps couples meeting on center and parting, followed by demi-soloists couples (Zoe Zien and Ashley Knox were back again, having changed out of their 1st movement costumes), and finally the cheery principles Nathalia Arja and Renato Penteado. But then the dancers from every movement returned for one of the biggest Balanchine finales I’ve ever seen. Tutus short and long were swirled about in kaleidoscopic patterns and the Koch’s massive stage was full to the brim. It felt a bit everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, but it was exhilarating.
The Miami City Ballet dancers must be commended for their passionate dancing throughout the evening. The troupe is not as big as the NYCB, and both programs they brought to NY contained large-scale ballets. This meant that many dancers were doing double and triple duty: like the tirelessly committed Jeannette Delgado and Shimon Ito, and the scene-stealing Zoe Zien—who was featured in the first two ballets and popped up in two more movements in the closer. I hope these talented dancers got a good rest after their tour, they certainly earned it!