Miami Heat

Miami City Ballet
Tilles Center for the Performing Arts
C.W. Post Campus, Long Island University
Brookville, New York
April 29, 2006

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2006, Nancy Dalva

The Prodigal Son brought his handsome family home last week — or almost home. It is just a short drive from the New York State Theater, his old stomping ground, out to a greening outpost of Long Island University. Under the river and through the woods, to see Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet. For this is — though his name is not in the title — his company just the way The New York City Ballet was George Balanchine’s. Not only because he is the founding artistic director and chief executive officer, but because it bears the stamp of his character, and of his art, yet none of the dances he showed here were his, or by his proteges. Instead, he showed us his company’s stuff on stuff we, stuck here in the North, already know, and know well. And love, and love well. It was the program from heaven, via Florida: George Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” Paul Taylor’s “Piazzolla Caldera,” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs.”

These three works have something in common besides the obvious — that is, besides being by three master choreographers. They are all suites of dances with no plot other than the music and the dancing, yet they all are expressive of character. They all have to-die-for duets, in the latter two, lots of them. They all bear a relation to social dancing; they are all expressive of a time and place; they are all divine to watch. And they are all, in style, as different as chalk from cheese.

The “Donizetti,” of course, puts on display the Miami City Ballet’s Balanchine chops. Here are some of the virtues of their performance: Clarity, clarity, and clarity. All charming and right, but best of all, clear. Seeing this company dance this ballet, you could see right back to its roots, so that looking at it, I thought: Oh, yes, made as a tribute on a program honoring Italy, but not Italy, really. No, no. Not Naples, but “Napoli.” I don’t know whether Balanchine spent any time in Italy, but I do know he spent time in Denmark, and this ballet has the look of Bournonville’s Italy. There is a direct relation to Balanchine’s “Tarantella,” which Villella danced with the effervescently pretty Patricia McBride, and their dancing is imprinted here—the delight in performance, pure pleasure in flying around the stage, and, in McBride’s case, prancing into the wings like a filly. But more so, there is an underlying decorum — in the partnering, in the postures, in the picturesqueness, if you will, that recalls the softness and courtesy of the Bournonville. Ramped up, however, with some pure Rockettes high kicks — this was Balanchine, after all, in America. The ballerina for this performance was Mary Carmen Catoya, and she is one adorable cupcake of a ballerina. The kind of ballerina little girls see and fall in love with and want to be. Pretty, perfect, and — well little girls might not notice this, but grown up ones do — and a real phraser. Her partner was Mikhail Ilyin, looking as happy to be catching her as he ought to. Throughout, the rest of the cast was on the beat. In Miami, it seems, an upbeat is an upbeat, and a downbeat is a downbeat. So that, as a passing fancy, one might think that they could, if they would, start up–that is, begin dancing in the air, and come to earth by volition. It isn’t hard to figure out whence that quality derives. Hello, Edward Villella.

“Piazzolla Caldera” is a work I’ve seen on Paul Taylor’s own company many times, on the first cast and on their subsequent replacements. (Francie Huber, one of the originals, set the work on Miami.) I am happy to report that I have never seen it danced better or more thrillingly than on this troupe, and I only wish Paul Taylor had been in the house to see this for himself. These dancers are hot, hot, hot, and wonderfully different from his company, yet true to the piece. From the evidence, the ideal preparation for dancing Paul Taylor would be dancing Balanchine, and dancing in a company (and a school) where being able to dance Balanchine is the raison d’etre of the training. This is not surprising, really — musicality is musicality. The particular qualities the Miami company give to this dance are rapier footwork, and sharp attack. Again, clarity. The dances, which are not really tangos but tango fantasia, looked more like actual ballroom tangos than they do on the Taylor company, which rounds things out and gives them heft, plush, and weight. Isn’t it nice one doesn’t have to choose between them? If I were going to derive a moral from this, it might be in the form of a question — something along the lines of, “Why doesn’t the New York City Ballet dance Paul Taylor?”

Last up was the Tharp. Elaine Kudo set the piece for Miami. She herself danced another Tharp dance — an extended duet — to Sinatra at American Ballet Theatre, where she was partnered by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Naturally enough, the Miami version has some of the qualities of that work. They are, after all, ballet dancers. What they are not is Tharp dancers. The humor falls in different places on this company, and there is none of the recklessness, fecklessness, and to-die-for, testosterone-meets-estrogen conflama of the original. (Was there every anything hotter than Keith Young lofting gorgeous Shelly Washington overhead, suspended by his irrefutably manly arms?) Miami’s “Sinatra” is very smooth, with its own version of heat—you feel real amor simmering off the stage, and real concern between the partners. This is a company that cares about each other, you feel. But one thing is the same in this “Sinatra,” and I would venture in every “Sinatra.” Watching the seven duets and two group numbers (where the couples fill the stage but stay coupled), you see one real love match. One perfectly consummated affair, epic and right and not merely additive but exponential: that would be the affair between the choreographer and the music. Twyla Tharp and Frank Sinatra. Now that’s witchcraft.

First: Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado in "Donizetti Variations." Photo by Joe Gato.
Second: Didier Bramaz and Patricia Delgado in "Piazzolla Caldera." Photo by Steven Caras.

Volume 4, No. 18
May 8, 2006

copyright ©2006 Nancy Dalva



©2006 DanceView