Written by: Alisa Vink
Edited by: Rachel Helten
Balanchine by Miami City Ballet at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, February 19th – 21st, 2015
Critical Review of February 20th performance
From the warm sandy beaches of Florida to the cold and rainy weather of Vancouver, Miami City Ballet made its first debut in this city, making it a historical night for both the company. This your was part of Miami City Ballet’s 30th Anniversary and International Tour, making it even more historical. Ballet BC presented Miami City Ballet’s Balanchine, an evening of three works choreographed by the brilliant George Balanchine. He was a pioneer of contemporary ballet in the 20th century and is known for his signature neoclassical style. He redefined the ways of classical ballet, pushed it in a new direction, and gave it a new look, while keeping the integrity of a 400 year-old tradition. In today’s world of contemporary dance, where the boundaries are constantly pushed, you could consider George Balanchine’s choreography very classical. His works are a part of many ballet companies repertoire. They are and are frequently being restaged, to keep his legacy and the classical ballet tradition alive.
The evening was compiled of three performances: Ballo della Regina, Symphony in Three Movements and Serenade. With some of the works dating back to the 70’s, there was no sense of the performance being outdated. All three pieces where alive and bursting with energy, which is partly due to Balanchine’s use of a heightened tempo and intricate choreography. What kept the performance alive for me was being able to watch the foundation of contemporary ballet. You could clearly see the link between the work of George Balanchine to today’s 21st century contemporary choreographers.
The evening opened with an exclusive work, Ballo della Regina which was choreographed for a New York City Ballet dancer,
Merrill Ashley in 1978, who also owns the rights to this ballet. Luckily for Miami City Ballet, it is one of the few dance companies that Merrill Ashley has allowed to stage this work. This Ballet is full of fast-paced virtuoso variations and lighting fast footwork.
As electrifying and demanding as the choreography was, the dancers seemed to be move seamlessly in and out of every step, with each move being just as energized as the last. The highlight of this work was the use of dancers, and how it had the ability to showcase soloists, a duet, a quartet, and an ensemble, without losing the integrity or becoming overpowering. This ballet also references the tale of a fisherman’s search for the perfect pearl. In my opinion, the story was lost in translation, and you can clearly tell that Balanchine was not a fan of using a narrative in his choreography. If it wasn’t for the small program note, I would not have made the one and only connection to the tale of a fisherman. Which in my opinion was the simple backdrop that subtly changed to an image of a rising sun. In a way that it distracted the performance because of the scarcely existing narrative, I was looking for something more and all I got was a rising sun. Although, the dancing was beautifully executed I was left disappointed. I feel if I didn’t read the program note prior to the performance my experience would have been entirely different.
Symphony in Three Movements was the first plotless ballet in this program, which Balanchine was known for. It is a large ensemble work that is paired with the music of Igor Stravinsky. It is a piece that is filled with architectural shapes and complex patterns, layered with flashy choreography, consisting of many high kicks and turns, giving it a jazzy feel. With simple ballet
class attire for costumes and just a simple blue backdrop, it was evident that Balanchine wanted the choreography to speak for itself, the piece was stripped down to its simplest form. The dancers dressed in leotard and tights, what are commonly class attire and the women’s hair were in ponytails instead of a classic ballet bun, which added to the simplicity. On top of that, the use of turn out was minimized and the parallel position was heightened, making it the most contemporary piece of the evening. The choreography took me by surprise for it was vastly different from the other pieces in the program. It felt rebellious and syncopated. You could see the rules of ballet being broken and pushed, which was refreshing. But I felt after the first ten minutes, as an audience member I grasped the concepts that were being conveyed as no new vocabulary was shown. From there it became predictable and my interest started to fade. In addition, the music of Igor Stravinsky was jagged and sharp which at times, matched the choreography. But for the most part I found it over powering and distracting. The dance was so powerful and strong I was longing for it to be carried on its own without the overwhelming score. I felt they were fighting against each other rather than complimenting the work.
The final piece of the night was a testament to Balanchine’s brilliance and a milestone in the history of dance. Serenade, was George Balanchine’s first original ballet in America. He choreographed it in 1934 for the School of American Ballet. The piece is
performed by 28 dancers in long, pale blue tutus, in front of a plain blue background, to the beautiful classical score of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major. The four movements were danced seamlessly. The soft tutus and ethereal movements evoked a mythical tone to the piece. These facets created the illusion of a narrative although the piece was intended to be plotless. The choreography had a kaleidoscopic feel, being fluid through every transition, even among the virtuous leaps and turns. The performance was fully engaging and left me in awe. There was something so beautiful about the classical ballet aesthetic and the contemporary nature of the choreography. Serenade is a pivotal work in dance history, marking the beginnings of contemporary ballet in America. It was an unforgettable experience to see this work being performed in Vancouver.
With three diverse pieces, each of the three works had a unique tone and style. The execution of Balanchine’s choreography and technique of the Miami City Ballet dancers was flawless. My only major complaint was the actual layout of the programming, as it was one of the few times that Vancouver has had the opportunity to witness George Balanchine’s choreography. I feel the program could have been stronger if we saw a wider range of his work. We had the privilege to see the beginning of his career with Serenade, and closer to the end of it with Ballo della Regina, but there was no opportunity to see the middle of his career. I believe that would have given the viewers a more retrospective outlook on the development of Balanchine’s work.
George Balanchine is becoming just as iconic as when the evolution of ballet started with King Louis XIV of France. He set the ground for contemporary ballet, through his development of neoclassical ballet. Balanchine’s neoclassical style was the bridge connecting the world of ballet to the world of contemporary dance. If it weren’t for Balanchine drastically changing the world of dance, then we would not have the iconic choreographers we have todays, such as William Forsythe or Jiří Kylián. All in all, it was a treat to watch what is the essence of contemporary ballet. The beautiful and strong range of the dancers of Miami City Ballet, paired with the classic, yet bold choreography of George Balanchine.
The George Balanchine Foundation. The George Balanchine Foundation. 26 February 2015 <http://ww.balanchine.org>
The George Balanchine Trust. The George Balanchine Trust. 25 February 2015 <http://www.balanchine.com>