Miami City Ballet’s Ode to Balanchine

Miami City Ballet’s  interpretation of works by the eminent George Balanchine enraptured audiences in a performance not of this world. I arrived at the performance on February 20th, 2015 with high expectations and the spectacle before me did not disappoint. Balanchine is said to be one of the most influential and transformative choreographers of the 20th Century. His vast repertoire, his impact as a teacher, choreographer and performer has profoundly revolutionized dance as we know it today. The evening included three unique works Ballo della Regina, Symphony in Three Movements, and Serenade. All performances were rooted in classical ballet technique but imbued with the inherent flare that Balanchine is famous for. I was awe-struck by the physical dynamism and ethereal grace of the performers. Although, I was captivated throughout each performance I felt my lens for viewing dance has transformed since the advent of my studies as a dance major of Simon Fraser University’s Contemporary Arts Program. I primarily studied classical ballet technique since I was a little girl so it was refreshing to me to be immersed in this familiar world once again. I found the moments that pushed the confines of classical ballet technique and  delved into the peculiar, evoked an emotional response to be some of the most memorable moments.

Merrill Ashley performing Ballo della Regina in 1978 (Courtesy of The George Balanchine Trust).

Merrill Ashley performing Ballo della Regina in 1978 (Courtesy of The George Balanchine Trust).

The first piece of the night was entitled Ballo della Regina it was the only work of the night with a plot that referenced the tale of a fisherman’s search for the perfect pearl. It displayed this plot clearly without being too literal. The atmosphere was an amalgamation of delightful cheerfulness, and longing. Balanchine choreographed this work for one of his dancer’s Merrill Ashley in 1978. The influence of Ashley’s style was unequivocal, she was known for her dazzling allegro, precision and musicality. The ballet was filled with laborious and fast-paced variations which complimented the allegro nature of the music composed by Giuseppe Verdi. The work featured a male principal and an all-female corps de ballet. The male principal wore classic ballet attire in blue, the four demi-soloists wore body suits with flowing chiffon skirts in pinks and blues and the ensemble of twelve wore the same style in white. All females were on pointe. The patterning and topography of bodies was clear and evenly spaced through-out. The work largely used cleverly complex petit allegro, and astounding jumps on top of their Pointe shoes. The complexity and pace of these movements seemed impossibly swift but was executed with precision and elegance.


Symphony in Three Movements performed in 1935 (Courtesy of The Balanchine Trust)

Symphony in Three Movements performed in 1935 (Courtesy of The Balanchine Trust)

The second piece of the night was entitled Symphony in Three Movements. It contains some of the most densely patterned and rapid movements. The score was written by Igor Stravinsky in 1945 in response to his impressions of World War II. Despite, the heavy intention of the music the dance was said to be plotless. The piece included a large cast with an ensemble of women in white body suits, the three demi soloists wore body suits in sunset colours salmon, pink, and hot pink. The men wore typical rehearsal attire, which included white t-shirts and black tights. The piece was primarily executed with classical ballet architecture with a mix of jazz and angular, turned in variations. The central part of the piece was a Balinese-style duet that contrasted the controlled chaos of multiple dancers that were on stage before. The corps de ballet in white often framed men and demi soloists creating interesting and satisfying topography.

“Serenade” performed in 1935 (Courtesy of The Balanchine Trust)

“Serenade” performed in 1935 (Courtesy of The Balanchine Trust)

The third masterpiece of the night was entitled Serenade. It was accompanied by the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra. It is also said to be plotless but the spectacle on-stage and connection between dancers created an instant narrative. The men wore tights in a blueish grey tone. The ladies wore romantic style tutus in a similar colour. The women wore Pointe shoes which added to the ethereal and otherworldly essence of the piece. The first movement “Piece in the form of a Sonatina: Andante non troppo, Allegro” begins with a large ensemble of girls in formation. They gracefully shift and transform into floral-like patterns in response to turns and leaps of one soloist. Eventually they form a compelling circle consisting of large syncopated movements. They return back into formation as one girl arrives late. Then enters a man whom she awaits for as the large ensemble disappears until only five remain. “In Temmo Russo: Andante, Allegro con spirito” The five girls are seated and rise to begin a sublime dialogue of movement with one another. The male then chooses one who is then left alone with her head buried in her arms and her hair undone. Finally, in “Ellegy” a boy is led onstage to the fallen lady. After he aids this young girl, an enchanting trio begins as they weave in and out of each other. All of the demi-soloists have their hair free flowing now. There is implied tension as he is compelled to choose between the two. The final moment is a celestial one- where the fallen girl is lifted by a group of men, followed by her fellow corpse, as she appears to ascend into heavenly rays of light as the curtain closes.

All three masterpieces were equally dynamic, complex and compelling. But I found the most enrapturing of pieces were the second and third of the evening. I felt that the first piece imbued with its impossibly quick and clever petit allegro was unarguably awe-inspiring. But I believe I enjoyed the other two works marginally more for they surprised me with their peculiarity, ornate patterning and emotional potency.  Symphony in Three Movements amazed me particularly for its intriguing idiosyncrasies and stratified patterning. It was riveting watching the movements compliment the vigorous nature of Stravinsky’s score. The movement ingeniously juxtaposed the chaos of the music with its own sense of controlled hysteria. The work was primarily fast paced which made the moments of pause all the more satisfying. There was frequent use of canons through-out the piece which made the break of unison more fascinating. The previously mentioned duet that was the central point of the piece I found to be a pleasing break from the chaos. The kinaesthetic response and connection between the dancers was engrossing. At one point they created a totem-pole like sequence of movements where the man was behind the women. This break from the conventional ballet vocabulary quenched my thirst for absurdity. I felt the attention to detail, precision of geometric shapes within their bodies and the space between them very clear. The fact, they were able to accomplish all these unimaginable tasks with such precision and grace kept me alert and hungry for more.

The third masterpiece Serenade surprised me primarily for its ornate patterning and emotional potency. When the piece began with the vast number of ladies on stage in precise formation I was expecting to see traditional ballet movement; which I would have been satisfied with. The movement did culminate the lofty, unimaginable strength, and balance that ballet offers but with the element of astonishment that Balanchine is famous for. For instance, in the beginning the large corpse of females lifted their arms into a beautiful fifth position and gracefully shifted into an ornate kaleidoscope formation. They continued to weave in and out of each other each time creating more complex and symmetrical patterns through, jumps, turns and twists that seemed not of this world. Among other bewildering moments were when there was a break of unison. One moment in particular was at the point of the late arrival of the girl. It was intriguing to me that in a sea of bodies that one soul could completely arrest my attention. Balanchine’s use of bodies to create an environment for the soloists was genius. For example, there was a moment where the fallen girl and leading man are executing a transcendent duet potent with yearning. While the rest of the corps de ballet create a mountain like structure in the corner with their bodies that rippled down into a wave as she fell. Moments like this took my breath away. Another moment of immense longing and intricacies was when three demi soloists danced all together with a male. There was clear magnetism between each character. They weaved in and out of each other in a succession of lifts, turns and energies that seemed to reach the ends of the earth. I found it astounding to see each woman be lifted so effortlessly. Additionally, when the man needs to choose between two women he reaches for one longing girl while he stands behind the other as she seamlessly executes a painfully slow pivoting arabesque above them. In this moment I heard a collective gasp of astonishment from the audience members around me. This collective gasp of amazement continued again in the final moment as the chosen lady is lifted into the heavens by four men and followed by members of the corpse. This piece kept me present in the surreal world that Balanchine created. Whereas, I found myself retreating into my own reveries in the first piece.

All three works were absolute masterpieces. Each piece enraptured my senses and left me hungry for more. I appreciated to no end the physical dynamism and the precision of traditional ballet technique; I also enjoyed the moments of peculiarity, ornate patterning and emotional potency the most. I feel this correlates to my influence of Simon Fraser University because as much as we stress the importance of technique we largely delve into the intention of our art. How can we reveal our unique selves? And express the manifold of emotions and idea’s we experience as an individual? I was certainly dazzled by tricks and technique, but what I relish the most is the surprises, the eccentricities, complexities and meaning behind art


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