MCB artistic director, Lourdes Lopez addressed the packed audience at the Arsht before Miami City Balletâ€™s Friday night opening, expressing how fortunate she felt to be on that stage after hurricane Irmaâ€™s impacts in September. She then poignantly quoted John Kennedyâ€™s remarks at Amherst College in 1963, â€œthe arts are here to lift the human spirit.â€
With that the curtain rose on the companyâ€™s 50th anniversary performance of Balanchineâ€™s Jewels and a black backdrop with the shape of a tree outlined in emerald accents. Emeralds is set to passages from PellÃ©as et MÃ©lisande and Shylock by Gabriel FaurÃ©, and the Opus 1 orchestra conducted by Gary Sheldon celebrated the score during both performances I attended with a dense weave of flute, horn, oboe and plucked bass.
The corps dancers were exquisite. In one sequence they held hands, performing a weave that recalled the links of a chain while in another they bent entirely forward, enclosing their heads beneath arms extended forward, wrists crossed in front â€“ as if mimicking unicorns.
The flowing legato style of FaurÃ©â€™s music challenges the dancer not simply to execute a sequence but to show its nuances. Tricia Albertson accomplished this masterfully in her solo, her upper body moved liquidly as she pirouetted to the violins buzzing underneath. In the close of the sequence, Albertsonâ€™s arms swept up and overhead like a vortex of air sweeping up autumn leaves.
Also spectacular was Emily Bromberg. Her solo began with the harp performing scales joined by solo violin. As Bromberg skipped from en pointe to demi-pointe to flat foot, her movements reflected the musicâ€™s glissando and then brilliantly interpreted the harpâ€™s arpeggios with an impossibly quick bourrÃ©e.
Other dancers seemed challenged to communicate a feel for the FaurÃ©. Usually noteworthy for their musicality, both Nathalia Arja and Shimon Ito seemed starchy and unsure with this score.
During their pas de deux, Rainer Krenstetter was prescient in his support of Albertson, his supporting hand assuming the precise position at the moment that Albertson would reach for his palm. Her lifted her without hesitation or small adjustments, as in one passage where Albertson â€“ firmly held by Krenstetter â€“ lightly tapped her feet down to the accents of the violin as she continued to ascend through the lift.
The second movement â€“ Rubies â€“ shifted from adagio to presto and a hyper urban pace laced with demonic overtones â€“ think Gershwin on crack â€“ as Francisco RennÃ³â€™s marvelous piano carried the Stravinsky score, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (1949).
Jordan-Elizabeth Long was an outstanding queen of the incubi, and she mastered the rapid pace that sometimes got the better of others, reflecting rapid-fire notes in every articulation of arms, wrists and fingers.
The ruby motif appeared in several places. For instance, in one figure, four men supported Long, two holding her hands while two held her feet. Long slowly raised her leg forward then stretched back as the men maintained their support and wove around her â€“ the effect was like a gem being turned between someoneâ€™s fingers.
With the silhouette of a ruby-red pagoda for backdrop, Katia Carranza and Renato Penteado were at home in the unheimlich with a pas de deux that emphasized hips and wrists in sequences that quoted from can-can, tango, salsa, jump rope, Western line dance and Indian Bharatanatyam. In a repeated gesture, Penteado held Carranza tight at the shoulders propped at an angle low to the floor as first her right leg then the left needled behind her. Both Carranza and Penteado were a wave of joyful energy in this St. Vitusâ€™ dance that seems as much Balanchineâ€™s critique of 20th century Manhattan as a celebration of it.
Diamonds opened to the corps gorgeous in white with silver accents and a glittering backdrop that gradually transformed into a chandelier.
Simone Messmer and Jovani Furlan began their pas de deux by walking toward one another in zig zag as if in an extended salute. Messmer is for balletomanes what the TV show Mr. Robot is to tech geeks â€“ a performer that rewards detail-obsessed viewing. For instance, relative to the other dancers, Messmer always seemed in her dances a little behind in the music. Until one realized sheâ€™s not behind in the passage but only working out the dynamics of the passage more intently than anyone else on stage. Where other dancers took a step, Messmer exploited its mechanics, making a simple shift from en pointe to demi pointe about mesmerizing transitions from the ankle through the metatarsus in tune with the nuances of Tchaikovskyâ€™s Third Symphony.
The delicate cascades of demi-tones Messmer sets in play in abdomen and chest that generate her exquisite Ã©paulment would easily be erased if rushed or jostled by her partner. Furlan preserved those details, partnering Messmer in their pas de deux flawlessly.
In one unforgettable image, as the violins thrummed tensely, Messmer first seemed to evade Furlon who hunted her across the stage. When she finally invited him to approach, he supported her first across her abdomen and then along her back as Messmer took several deliberate steps forward en pointe. The sequence finished when she bent forward, holding head and arms at a right angle to the stage, recalling the unicorn image formed by the corps in the balletâ€™s opening.
Kennedy at Amherst in 1963 concluded that the nation which disdains the mission of art has, “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.” Miami City Ballet takes a leap forward with Jewels. Miami audiences have much to hope for.