Ebullience. Zest. Sizzle. Zeal. Just roll those descriptors around in your mind for a moment for a tapas-like taste of what’s on the menu when Miami City Ballet (MCB) returns to Northrop on Wednesday, April 27, with a program of three diverse works performed with a live orchestra. Founded in 1985 by Miami philanthropist Toby Lerner Ansin and the irrepressible Edward Villella, former principal dancer at New York City Ballet, the company is beloved around the world for its flawless artistry and Balanchine-based repertory.
Since 2012, MCB’s artistic director has been Lourdes Lopez, the Havana-born dancer who performed with New York City Ballet for almost 25 years under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Which means the company’s musicality remains intact, and the sunny, youthful company of 51 dancers will inject much-needed heat and light into our springtime reveries. One of the principal dancers is Minneapolis-native Simone Messmer, a former student of Bonnie Mathis’ at Ballet Arts Minnesota and former soloist with American Ballet Theatre.
Classical ballet aficionados: Prepare to swoon. The program opens with George Balanchine’s Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade Strings in C.” The choreographer often referred to the work as his “favorite child,” and it is truly a milestone in the history of dance. Serenade was Balanchine’s first ballet created in America, originally choreographed as a lesson in stage technique for students in his School of American Ballet. When one of the students fell during rehearsal, and other arrived late, Balanchine incorporated both events into the choreography. In its current version, the work has four movements; the last two reverse the order of Tchaikovsky’s score to conclude the ballet on a pensive note.
The Balanchine continues with Symphony in Three Movements, which New York City Ballet premiered in 1972, set to Stravinsky’s score. Often referred to as one of Balanchine’s “most celebrated leotard ballets,” the 21-minute work showcases the composer’s signature propulsive rhythms by mirroring them in the dancers’ angular, athletic movement. And that’s all you need to see: Bodies in spectacular motion. No sets or narrative will distract you from the breathtaking ensemble work, meditative second movement (a pas de deux) or the stunning soloists.
The program’s finale, however, promises to lift the audience’s spirits to new aesthetic heights. Choreographed by wunderkind Justin Peck, the 28-year-old resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, Heatscape is set against a backdrop inspired by Miami’s vibrant Wynwood Walls and the designs of artist Shepard Fairey, whose “Hope” design became an icon of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Fairey, Peck told Vogue, “works with these mandala images that start from the center and build outward, and that way of working interests me choreographically.” The work, which premiered last year, “shows [Peck’s] gift for memorably picturesque, changing group shapes: lines, rings, clusters occur at various points and angles on the stage, registering dramatically. Meanwhile the dancers infectiously show the appeal of the ebullient movement he gives to them, with contrasting through-the-body ripples, pounces, bends, jumps and changes of direction,” wrote Alastair Macaulay in the New York Times.
CBS News has said “Ballets dreamed up by Justin Peck feel at once classical and new, an energy that has become distinct to the young choreographer's work. In just a few years, Peck has made a name for himself as the ballet world's ‘next big thing.’” So don’t expect the program to portray MCB as “clones of New York’s ballet companies,” Macaulay recently warned. “[T]heir high energy has a warm sunniness that surely speaks of Florida.” And that’s welcome any time of year.