Miami City Ballet celebrated their second program in their 2018/2019 season, with two ballets that are hugely respected within the American dance world: Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” (hence, the name of the program) and the company premiere of “Brahms/Handel,” by the unique collaboration of Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp.
Both pieces were uniquely created for The New York City Ballet, however, Miami City Ballet showed its distinctive style by presenting the pieces with strong and determined dancers.
As the curtain raised up, Renato Penteado walked elegantly in silence staring at his space, making the audience eager to see more. As they started hearing Chopin’s notes by the company’s main pianist, Francisco Rennó, Penteado performed a waltz solo that put the audience in the correct mood. The solo was a perfect start for what the audience had to witness after. The energy had just started.
While the dancers are differentiated by colours, the couples are mixed in between the pieces. Robbins certainly made a unique work in which the eighteen sections are innovative. The ballet also includes several steps of character dance, such as mazurka and waltz, which are highlighted in every section of the piece.
Although the ballet has no specific plot, the audience can catch a certain ‘character’ in the dancers, creating their own story. This showcases the company’s high level of artistry, making the audience laugh and gasp at certain moments. Dances at a Gathering is certainly a piece that makes the audience react and enjoy every moment.
On the same subject, every couple, duo, trio, or group in the ballet that set their feet on stage had a message to portray: romantic, melancholic, happy, or funny. Emily Bromberg and Katia Carranza, who had a strong presence in the ballet as the mauve and pink dancers respectively, made the audience be summoned in their romantic solos and pas de deux.
We cannot leave out the men’s role in this piece. In every pas de deux, the men securely held the women as the ballet includes complicated lifts and partnering skills. They made a great collaboration with each of their women to make the movements flow and easy. For instance, Chase Swatosh, soloist and in purple, had a difficult role during the ballet, with several partners and having a presence in many of the eighteen sections. These moments he performed excellently.
Nathalia Arja, principal soloist from Brazil, had a unique charisma that highlighted her presence during the whole evening. Being the apricot dancer (and later the green ballerina in Brahms/Handel), she presented an energetic pas de deux with Shimon Ito and was involved in throwing, complicated lifts. This made the audience gasp and certainly cheer Ms. Arja loudly at the time of the bows.
Women’s trios and quartets were excellently executed, and although there were tiny moments where they could be more together, their beautiful footwork was highlighted. Simone Messmer, in green and Ashley Knox in blue, are the perfect example of clean footwork. Their characters were also a huge influence in the ballet and the audience certainly enjoyed their performance.
The piece ends just as it starts, with a beautiful, strong stare at the space and audience by not one dancer, but all of them. Patient port de bras and elegant heads made the audience wait for the perfect ending. As mentioned before, the company stated their artistry, and the piece ended with a standing ovation while the ten dancers bowed.
When the curtain raised after intermission, it was time for the expected Robbins/Tharp collaboration. This ballet is MCB’s company premiere, as just the New York City Ballet had been the one to performed it since it premiered in 1984.
The audience made a huge “oooh” as soon as they saw Robbins’ dancers standing in elegant poses with Oscar de la Renta’s ombré effect designed costumes. The lighting design made the costumes shine (Robbins’ dancers in blue, Tharp’s in green,) and as they moved together, creating a beautiful blend in both costumes and choreography.
Robbins dancers started the piece, with eccentric music by Johannes Brahms (composing variations from a theme by Handel.) Jennifer Lauren and her partner, as the principal blue couple, certainly dance with energy, highlighting Robbins’ style.
The vigorous music made the audience sit on the edge of their seats, as they waited for Tharp’s dancers to arrive at the stage. As the green couples came in, the piece turned into a unique vibrancy of movement. Tharp’s dancers, led by Nathalia Arja and Alexander Peters, emphasized Tharp’s distinctive movements.
The piece kept blending their dancers, and while there were sometimes when the two styles were separated on stage, the blue men and green women (and vice versa) started coming together and changing partners, steps and formations, putting the two choreographers’ collaboration into one single, beautiful motion.
MCB’s men had a distinctive team-work where they securely threw the women in the air. This part of the ballet, closer to the grand finale, made the audience again gasp several times, as the women were carried in complicated lifts and turns in the air that landed securely on the men’s arms.
While Tharp and Robbins’ dancers have different sections of dancing, the ballet is a brilliant vivacity of their spirit as choreographers. Miami City Ballet dancers made sure that their legacy was celebrated that evening. After the exuberant finale (where the “teams” were made into one), a long standing ovation thanked the dancers for an incredible, exciting night.
It is by no means to mention that the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach audiences are excited to see more programs like this from the Miami City Ballet. Having high-quality dancers within its ranks and presenting historical pieces like these, the company is ready for these types of challenges and more.