Maybe you could say THIRTEEN’s Great Performances traded apples (New York City Ballet) for oranges as the Miami City Ballet showed its Balanchine wares on the latest installment of public media’s award-winning series. The Florida company has long based its repertoire on a long list of the ballet master’s works, usually supplemented by contemporary choreography with a Latin flair, a good match given its location.
Of course Edward Villella’s group was called to perform a pair of historic Balanchine pieces, “Square Dance” and “Western Symphony.” But they served as bookends for Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section.”
Villella was always noted for his athletic approach to prowling the stage, a dancer with real American star power, and his dancers reflected that kind of confidence. The company has had its financial ups and downs, but never lost sight of its style (or its touring). Recently it has had considerable success in dance capitals like New York and Paris.
So the invitation to dance was perfectly timed to show how Balanchine’s urban artistry translates to Florida.
“Square Dance” was presented in front of a sweeping cloud-filled sky similar to a Texas plain, but without the original trademark calls (“Two little ladies, up the track, sashay over, sashay back…”).
This was the 1976 revival that added more Corelli to the mainly Vivaldi score and tipped the scales in favor of the classical steps that permeated the choreography. It also included a poetic Corelli Sarabanda for the lead male, tall and pole-thin (there was no listing of the individual dancers, an unfortunate oversight). He adopted a soft, almost princely air to the phrasing, full of curly cues that rippled through his torso.
Then there were beats and more beats — and the Miami City dancers peeled them off, their feet like the wings of hummingbirds. Some of the patterns may have come from dance folklore, but it was elevated to a sophisticated court dance with an American twist.
The inimitable Mr. B. had a real penchant for the American West and famously wore, as Villella reiterated here, string ties. “Western Symphony,” with its rollicking Hershey Kay score, nabbed a whole passel of familiar tunes that would leave any audience shuffling its way out the door.
But this was meant to be viewed at home, which could inspire a rabble-rousing sing-along. It was a veritable stampede of fun-filled steps, the women like dance hall girls and the men like cowboys, that is, unless the women were imitating a team of horses.
“Western Symphony” has one of the most exhilarating finales in the ballet repertoire, an escalating series of pirouettes where the curtain falls on a whirly gig of a cast, then rises, the stage still full of pirouettes, and falls again. How would they do it? Well, by collapsing in a heap — perfect.
Tharp’s “The Golden Section” was just that — a cast of beautiful dancers in burnished gold swimsuits, regaling against a starry sky. It was a terrific vehicle to show the dancers’ versatility and their ability to move from the upright balletic style to a slouchy abandon.
It was also another way to show off the MCB dancers’ great footwork in another style and to underscore their Balanchine confidence in Tharpian fashion. You could call it a new way to view ballet’s six degrees of separation.
(And by the way, since there was time left over, stay tuned for an extended commercial about NYCB’s School of American Ballet.)
Viewings: Fri. at 9 p.m. and Mon. at 4 a.m., but check your local listings.