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Broward Centre for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale
02/14/2014 -  & February 15, 16 (Miami), 21, 22, 23* (Fort Lauderdale), 28, March 1, 2 (Palm Beach) 2014
George Balanchine: Episodes (music by Anton Webern) – Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (music by Piotr I. Tchaikovsky)
Jerome Robbins/Peter Gennaro: West Side Story Suite (music by Leonard Bernstein)

The Miami City Ballet
Opus One Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (conductor)
David Hays, Oliver Smith (scenic designers), Karinska, Irene Sharaff (costume designers), Mark Stanley, Jennifer Tipton (lighting designers)

(© Gio Alma)

Though this program is made of traditional works, it the first time that the West Side Story Suite of Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro has been presented by Miami City Ballet. The choreography is based on the work for the original 1957 Broadway production transferred to the 1961 film, so it is undoubtedly recognizable to most of the audience over 40. Before continuing to examine the performance, it might be better to understand the purpose of this adaptation. For a lover of the complete work, there are bound to be disappointments about not including favorite songs and moments. For me that meant wanting “The Jets’ Song” after the thrilling introduction; but with a suite, you can’t please everyone. One thing that this musical always lacked was a good script. To be without it here was refreshing and prevents it from feeling even slightly dated.

It is an exciting piece of theatre. One’s attention will never wander and company members like Sara Esty as Anita, Jeremy Cox as Riff and Reyneris Reyes as Bernardo proved very credible dancing actors. Tony and Maria are often seen as the least compelling characters of West Side Story, but Jovani Furlan and Emily Bromberg brought an usually touching innocence.

Using the original Irene Sharaff costumes which are so well known from the movie, is a great stroke, as was the evocative lighting. A minor slip came in the backdrop for the “Somewhere” ballet which looked as if we were in Oklahoma! not New York City. Take away the urban background and this is not the same work.

Let’s hope that this suite is just a seedling and that someday the entire musical will be given as a ballet chanté. If we can have Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, why not Bernstein’s West Side Story? As expected, after the performance a WWS aficionado said to me, “What’s the point if we don’t see the whole work?” It is a legitimate question; but if the result of this production is as monumental as filling the usually empty seats, then questioning is pointless. Do we question doing Giselle or Swan Lake? If packing, not papering, the house isn’t a good enough reason, we must realize that dissenters live in an alternate universe where money for the arts is limitless.

Opening the program, and also new to Miami City Ballet, was Balanchine’s masterwork, Episodes, set mostly to the non-lyrical music of Anton Webern. Balanchine had already been tackling the unusual but, still, Webern must have been a stretch. Balanchine, in full control, manipulates the music almost more than being led by it. This is a tough piece for an audience more satisfied with and accustomed to the ornamental. Still no one will deny that the choreography is stunning; so much so that our attention might not be as focused if the music were more expressive. I felt I was seeing an evolution: maybe of the world, humanity, world order or simply the art of dance. We are taken through an ensemble of intense simplicity, followed by a rather foreboding duet, another ensemble with patterns that might make one think of images seen under a microscope, then a solo that can at times resemble an insect leaving a cocoon or the birth of an amphibian. The last movement of the ballet is set to music of Bach arranged by Webern. There is relieving comfort to be found as the dancers display deliberate purposes as if we were looking at the inside of an ant farm or beehive. This is what I saw; others told me they saw things much differently. This is art. No one’s interpretation is any more credible than anyone elses. Let your imagination be massaged. Though first up on the program, Episodes is the centerpiece; no ballet could be more demanding on us, maybe on the dancers, too. Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez shows Miami City Ballet’s audience great respect by anticipating we are ready for it.

Between these two, once again, (who’s complaining?) is the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux set to music from Act III of Swan Lake. It is particularly exciting to see this piece when seated near audience members experiencing it for the first time. And rarely will they ever encounter a performance with artists of the caliber of Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado who have the ability to make it all seem so simple; if it looked difficult, it wouldn’t be as much fun. This is the sort of work that wins converts to ballet.

This program will be repeated in West Palm Beach at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, February 28 through March 2.

Jeff Haller



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