Even the most sharp-elbowed New Yorkers can concede that Miami City Ballet rates among North America’s premier dance companies. Its thirty-five year history has been filled with triumphs. Pivoting off of Miami’s geographic location, mcb (as it is known locally) has combined the finest traditions and greatest talents of European, American, and Latin dance to create innovative productions hailed by critics everywhere. South Florida is privileged to benefit from the company’s roving tours, which present multiple performances of each mcb production in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as well as in Miami.
This exciting program, seen at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, presented a mélange of time-tested choreography, with two classic selections from the mid-twentieth-century American repertoire and a complete performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird in George Balanchine’s landmark version (adapted by Jerome Robbins).
Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015) revisits Aaron Copland’s classic score of 1945, the ebullient elements of which are familiar to virtually anyone ever exposed to television commercials. Peck’s interpretation imbues the energetic sections of the work, which was originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille, with boundless spirit in a splendid vehicle for mcb’s young male dancers; the ensemble of fifteen men (and one woman) simply capture youth and excitement. Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costumes gesture back to the forties in their fleet geometric simplicity, widely used in costuming at the time to suggest the space-age functionality of the human future.
The evening’s second selection was a revival of Twyla Tharp’s choreography of nine jazz standards sung by Frank Sinatra. Set to music that now has an iconic, if now rather retro, presence in Americana, Tharp’s original vision was motivated by a fear that the iconoclastic culture of the 1960s would mean the end of elegant ballroom swing. This did not quite happen, but Nine Sinatra Songs remains a visual and aural feast. This production dates from 2004, long enough ago to capture the resurgent high style of the prosperous 1990s, when black tie found rejuvenation after decades of neglect. Oscar de la Renta’s elegant ballroom costumes hung well on the dancers. Most of the songs are set as charming pas de deux. The agile pairing of Jordan-Elizabeth Long and Chase Swatosh did best of all in “Strangers in the Night.” Julia Cinquemani and Carlos Quenedit leapt playfully through “One for the Road,” with Cinquemani indulging in full drops to indicate the inebriation of the narrator’s company at the evening. It was probably a mistake, however, to stage “My Way,” which was performed twice, as an ensemble. The song is one of the most reflective in the Sinatra repertoire, a deeply personal meditation on taking life on its own terms. For all their gracious movements, the multiplicity of dancers seemed to overwhelm the sentiment.
Firebird, a tale from Russian folklore, completed the evening. Lourdes Lopez, mcb’s artistic director, came of age with the work during her distinguished career dancing with the New York City Ballet, performing as a super, a monster, a princess, and, finally, as the mythical title character. In Glenn Keenan’s new production, with sets by Anya Klepikov and projections by Wendell K. Harrington, the stage glittered in glorious reminiscence of Imperial Russia’s finest stagings. Some modern stylization was inevitable—imprisoned knights emerge from trees in the projected images, for example—but the vivid colors and self-conscious exoticism put one in mind of the Ballets Russes, which debuted the work in 1910, and brought that era’s artistic brilliance back to life. Balanchine’s choreography of 1949, touched up by Robbins, remains as fresh as ever.
Unfolding over just thirty-two minutes, the story recounts Prince Ivan’s entry into the realm of the evil sorcerer Kashchei, who holds captive thirteen beautiful princesses. Helped by the Firebird, who gives him a feather to summon her when in need, he falls enamored of one of the princesses during his quest. When Kashchei catches him and locks him in a dance of death, the Firebird appears with a sword that Ivan then uses to destroy his nemesis and attendant minions. Finally, prince and princess are united at the altar. Swatosh returned to dance Prince Ivan with elegance and a refined masculinity. Long, his partner from “Strangers in the Night,” enchanted him with beguiling footwork as the princess Tsarevna. Reyneris Reyes danced a menacing Kashchei, and Nathalia Arja’s Firebird had all the magic to defeat him.