For the Miami City Ballet’s season-ending program, the dance company put together four balletic works conceived by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins as American iterations of European dance. The title of the program was “Entradas” (“Entrances” in English), a nod to Miami’s Cuban culture.
Balanchine’s Square Dance proved quite an entrance: its square dancing motif has been reimagined as what the program notes describe as “a reflection of today’s South Florida, inspired by our home in Miami.” Both the square dancing and the Miami setting clash with the Baroque musical selections from Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in B Minor and in E Major and from Arcangelo Corelli’s Sarabanda, Giga, e Badinerie, but, like the traditional American square dance, all are in 4/4 time and eminently accessible to the talents of Miami City Ballet’s ensemble.
Balanchine’s choreography from 1957 survives elegantly intact, but Rudi Goblen’s new lyrics, which contain a fair amount of Spanish interjections, evoke the people, culture, music, and weather of Miami’s beguiling streets. Mariana Sanchez’s sets radiate warm hues that evoke twilight in pinks and purples, with hints of visible stars. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes recreate relaxed Caribbean styles. One can only embrace the caller’s invocation, “The sun is down. The beach is blue. ¡A bailar!”
The program continued with Robbins’s achingly beautiful The Aftermath of a Faun, his 1953 scenario for Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Claude Debussy’s symbolist piece itself composed to illustrate the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed a version in 1912 that depicted a faun’s encounter with nymphs. In his production, Robbins abandoned the mythological setting for a modern dance studio in which a young male dancer absorbed in his own reflection is seduced by a woman. The young dancer who inspired Robbins in the 1950s was none other than Edward Villella, then a student at the School of American Ballet. Villella founded Miami City Ballet in 1985 and led it through 2012. The principal soloist Chase Swatosh performed the part of the young man with muscular but graceful dancing. As the woman, Katia Carranza was more hesitant but steadily grew with the passion of the movement.
Robbins’s work continued with Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight female dancers whose movements are meant to evoke ancient Greek bas-relief sculpture. Again set to Debussy, it brought to life his Six épigraphes antiques for four-hands piano, which was composed to accompany the poet Pierre Louÿs’s Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of translations of unknown poetry purportedly by Sappho. Here, the epigraphs were performed in a fully orchestrated version produced by Ernest Ansermet in 1932. A seventh movement, more intimate than the others, was set to a solo flute piece of 1912 titled Syrinx. Miami relies on Florence Klotz’s costumes and Jennifer Tipton’s lighting from New York City Ballet’s 1984 premiere. The eight women followed the geometric direction with exactitude.
Balanchine’s work returned for the final installment, a plotless confection for a much larger ensemble set to Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. Commissioned in 1942 by the New York Philharmonic, which presented the symphony’s premiere in 1946, it is said to represent Stravinsky’s impressions of America during World War II. The musical motifs, however, more readily recall the innovations of his tumultuous 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring, while also looking forward to the slower, neoclassical idiom of his opera The Rake’s Progress (1951). The composer also adopted selections from incomplete film scores that he had been approached to produce for Hollywood. Balanchine’s balletic adaptation opened the New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival of 1972, with a more mature Villella in the cast. The musical pastiche resonates with exceptional energy, and Miami’s dancers gave their all to match the busy score and scenario.
The guest conductor Tania León, who led the West Palm Beach Sunday matinee performance on her eightieth birthday, impressively led the Opus One Orchestra. An accomplished Cuban composer, she won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2021 and was a Kennedy Center honoree in 2022. The night’s program proved fitting for León.