Miami's "Dances at a Gathering"

“Dances at a Gathering”, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”
Miami City Ballet
The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College
Purchase, NY
April 30, 2006

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2006, Susan Reiter

When the curtain rose on the familiar, robin’s-egg-blue cyclorama lightly dusted with a few stray white clouds, a delicious blend of anticipation and contentment set in. “Dances at a Gathering” has become a beloved old friend, over the course of 37 years of fairly continuous performances by the New York City Ballet. But on this occasion, those about to inhabit the delicately shaded milieu defined by that simple setting — so full of possibilities — were recent newcomers to the wonders and challenges of this seminal Jerome Robbins ballet. Miami City Ballet gave its first performances of the work in February, performing it about a dozen times before making it the centerpiece of this all-too-brief but most welcome spring tour of several New York City-area venues.

At NYCB, there is the legacy of the original cast, the generations of company members who have helped define certain roles, the responsibility of sustaining one of the repertory’s most beloved mainstays. The MCB dancers bring to the ballet the freshness of discovery — and most certainly the awareness that ”Dances” is a ballet that helped define the artistic profile of their company’s founder/artistic director, Edward Villella. If the responsibility of being entrusted with a landmark was weighing on them, it was not evident from this luminously transcendent performance.

As staged by two former NYCB soloists, Susan Hendl and Ben Huys, this “Dances” had a gracious air of discovery, rather than any sense of obligation to meet preconceived expectations. The encounters breathed and sighed as they unfolded without any forced emphasis or overtly “dramatic” touches. In the duet known as the “Giggle Dance,” for instance, Tricia Albertson and Jeremy Cox delivered a sprightly, robust encounter where some have over-emphasized its playfulness. The rush of ongoing energy, the zip of their fleet, buoyant dancing was so infused with a simply joyfulness that the humor emerged form its sheer sparkle.

Casting is extremely crucial to “Dances,” given the array of vivid individuals on whom Robbins crafted this sublime suite of encounters ranging from the intimate to the rambunctious. Each members of the cast must make a strong individual impression, yet we must sense a profound connection between them. The ten MCB dancers in this cast are already worthy interpreters of these roles, allowing Robbins’ subtlety of tone — an allusion to an old-world folk step here, a hint of melancholy nostalgia or shy anticipation there — to emerge within the steps themselves, rather than forcing an outlook on them.

In the all-important role of the woman in the pink dress, Katia Carranza was truly exceptional, making the choreography feel as though it was emerging spontaneously from within her. She has the requisite delicacy and fluidity for the part, plus an easy charm and engaging naturalness. On the basis of this and her superb performances in two very different ballets (“Piazzolla Caldera” and “Nine Sinatra Songs”) on an earlier program, she emerged as one of MCB’s greatest assets.

The men presented an especially congenial group; one sensed an undercurrent of amiable companionship — as well as cheerful one-upsmanship — among them. Renato Penteado, in the Villella (Brown) role, is an exceptionally clean, vigorous classicist. He lacks the plush, juicy attack that this role employs, but made it very much his own, especially his second solo, thrillingly delivered with windswept urgency. His extended duet with Carranza became a poignant mini-drama of its own, launched with spirited briskness and shifting into fluid, melancholy languor.

Carlos Guerra had a rough-and-ready eagerness that he tempered with elegant poise as the man in purple, and the duet in which he and Penteado play a competitive game of follow-the-leader/can-you-top-this brimmed with sly macho bravado. Kenta Shimizu, modest and engaging, was a more subdued and romantic figure as the man in green, and Didier Bramaz made the man in blue a vibrant member of the community.

Jennifer Kronenberg, as the woman in mauve whose duets with Shimizu seemed like intermittent glimpses of an ongoing romantic partnership, occasionally played to the audience with an assertive “performance” manner that feels out of place in this work. This created a disconcerting effect in their first duet, but she relaxed more into the communal tone as the ballet progressed. Michelle Merrell’s first solo was inspired; witty and deftly timed, creating a vivid sketch of a worldly, impatient sophisticate. She tired a bit too hard in the later “solo” in which she attempts to connect with the men passing by. Rounding out the cast was the effervescent Patricia Delgado, whose instinct for phrasing is a joy to behold, and Albertson, with her bright presence and sharp attack.

The deft, sensitive piano playing by Francisco Renno, snugly placed just under the lip of the stage left corner, was occasionally marred by the intense amplification.

The program concluded with a bracing performance of Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” pulling its kaleidoscopic segmented parts together into a shapely whole — no mean feat, given the many times it has received wan, miscast performances at NYCB that robbed it of its jazzy verve and rightful place as a late apotheosis of Balanchine’s edgy “leotard ballet” genre. Kronenberg, whom I’d come to associate with strength and power after seeing her in roles originated by tall, strapping dancers in “Push Comes to Shove” and “Piazzolla Caldera,” at first struck me as an unlikely choice for the ballerina who performs the Aria II duet, a role that calls for vulnerability and delicacy. But she utilized her plush attack beautifully, lending the role wistful poignancy and filing out its contours and details. Guerra was magnificent as her partner, the Peter Martins role that has lost its blend of majesty and strangeness at NYCB.

Deanna Seay, lean and with a long-torso, was not the mighty amazon, or febrile contortionist, that the other female lead role is sometimes presented as. She gave an intelligent performance, but one that was diminished by her inability to fill space and move expansively. Shimizu, a strong and focused performer, brought just the right degree of quirky oddness to his role, and the 16 dancers in the ensemble certainly knew how to move through space, and then some, restoring all the rough energy and angular surprises that make the finale so thrilling.

Photo of Katia Carranza, Jennifer Kronenberg and Patricia Delgado in Dances at a Gathering, choreography by Jerome Robbins, by Steven Caras.

Volume 4, No. 18
May 8, 2006

copyright ©2006 Susan Reiter



©2006 DanceView