Ballet BC Presents Miami City Ballet in Balanchine

Balanchine

Serenade Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

There is no surprise that Vancouver gave Miami City Ballet the standing O for their first ever performance in Vancouver. I am grateful that Miami City Ballet came to Vancouver while I am living here. This was my first experience watching MCB and I hope it won’t be my last. Miami City Ballet performed three replicas of the famous Balanchine’s work, Ballo della Regina, Symphony in Three Movements and Serenade performed at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre February 19th – 21st. The dancing was spectacular and it was amazing to see Balanchine’s work performed live, I felt like I was in a history book.

Miami City Ballet is a leading ballet company in America and an outstanding talent to replicate Balanchine’s work (MCB, 2015). George Balanchine (1904-1983) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and came to the United States in 1933 (TGBF, 2002). Balanchine is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet (TGBF, 2002). Balanchine along with Lincoln Kirstien (1907-96) founded The School of American Ballet in 1934. Balanchine was the ballet master and principle choreographer of the New York City Ballet from 1948 until his death (TGBF, 2002). Balanchine has choreographed more the 400 works and has revolutionized the ballet world. Major classical ballet companies perform his works all over the world (TGBF, 2002).

Miami City Ballet’s artistic director is Lourdes Lopez, born in Havana, Cuba and raised in Miami (MCB, 2015). Lopez danced with New York City Ballet for 24 years under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (MCB, 2015). Lopez joined the NYCB when she was 16 and promoted to soloist in 1981 and principal in 1984 (MCB, 2015). Lopez became the executive director of The George Balanchine Foundation and co-founded the innovative dance company Morphoses (MCB, 2015). It is no doubt that because of Lourdes Lopez’s career working under Balanchine has influenced the Miami City Ballet and their ability to perform his work so eloquently.

Ballo della Regina, music by Giuseppe Verdi was choreographed in 1978 for Merrill Ashley, the ballet references the tale of a fisherman’s search for the perfect pearl (TGBT, 2011). Merrill Ashley was known for her brilliant, dynamic allegro, precision and musicality (TGBT, 2011). Ashley owns the rights to this ballet and MCB is one of the few dance companies she has allowed to stage it (TGBT, 2011).

Symphony in Three Movements music by Igor Stravinsky choreographed in 1972 for the New York City Ballet contains some of his fleeting and most densely patterned dance (TGBT, 2011). The piece is a large plotless ensemble work containing remarkable energy, complexity, originality and contrast (TGBT, 2011).

Serenade was choreographed in 1934 and performed by students at the School of American Ballet, the music is by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (TGBT, 2011). It is the first original ballet Balanchine created in America and is one of the signature works of New York City Ballet’s repertory (TGBT, 2011). Balanchine worked unexpected rehearsals events into the choreography. When one student fell, he incorporated it. Another day, a student arrived late, and this too became part of the ballet (TGBT, 2011).

Ballo Della Regina (1978), the background of the stage matched the pastel coloured consumes the corps de ballet in turquoise, the soloists in fuschia and the principal ballerina in sparkling white. The corps de ballet was all female and the leads were one female one male. The best way to describe this piece is joyful, every movement is completely full of joy. The dancers had beaming smiles, which translated through all their movements right to their figure tips. The petit allegro was astoundingly fast. The piece’s general feel was light, hopeful and spring like, but the dancers were strong, confident and never missed a beat. The musicality of the dancers in all of these works was breathtaking. It brings to life Balanchine’s famous quote “see the music, hear the dance” (Goodreads, 2015) As a dancer its hard to relax when a piece contains so much jumping I found my leg muscles engaging in my seat watching them jump for what felt like the entire ballet!

The second piece performed, Symphony in Three Movements (1972) was more of a serious feel that contrasted with Ballo Della Regina light happy feel. The female dancers wore simple but graceful bodysuits with a thin waist belt and white ballet tights. The corps de ballet was in white body suits, the soloists in black and the three principals in a single colour of there own, one red, one pink one orange. The males all wore black tights and light grey t-shirts, only the soloists and principal wore bright white t-shirts. The shapes in this piece were angular and much more abstract from classical ballet repertoire. The entire feel of the piece was fast, complex and constantly changing. The dancers were always on stand by, while the principals performed duets; the corps de ballet had a major role throughout. Some shapes and movements that stood out in this piece were the arms and legs creating right angles and attitude positions. There was a re-occurring jump that reminded me of variation of the classical ballet jump called the assemblé, meaning to assemble. Usually this jump is done with turned out legs, legs are extended and feet are pointed. The ankles join together in the air, or beat together before landing. This jump was done with the legs in a parallel position and the knees bent into a tuck jump. The piece goes through a journey with the corps de ballet dancing perfectly in sync and then breaking up into cannons and waves of movements. At the end the stage is crowded with all the dancers and the corpes de ballet half in the wings of the stage with their limbs sticking out making angular patters, resembling the hands of a clock ticking. Knowing when this ballet was created it’s amazing how much I can see influences in contemporary dance today. The picturesque ballet formations have been altered and played with to change them ever so slightly from the “classical” look, yet it seems so different.

Serenade (1934), What a treasure it was to see this piece performed live. As the curtain rises the whole audience takes a loud gasping breath that resembles the feeling of “wow.” The corps de ballet is in perfect unison standing in gorgeous romantic tutu’s in a parallel stance with each right arm stretched on a long diagonal with a flexed palm as if they were reaching or praising. Their gaze follows the line of their arm and hand on the diagonal. In this moment the energy radiated from this still positing is enough to make the audience applauded before the first movement is ever made. I was reminded of last fall when I had the privilege of working with Crystal Pite on her creation of the piece Singularity. In the opening scene of Serenade the dancers stand still in a perfect unison and slowly in sync beginning to move, they eventually end up in this connected shape at the top right corner of the stage. The dancers closest to the audience are at a low level down on their knees as they are connected the group gets higher and the dancers furthest away are standing. This reminded me of the ending of Crystal Pite’s Singularity, we were in a formation similar to the one here and then in reverse to what was done in Serenade we walked apart to stand singularly slowly moving in unison. Crystal Pite used Balanchine’s quote in rehearsal one day “see the music, hear the dance” when speaking about Singularity, I never made the physical connection to the resemblances in these two dancer pieces until now. It’s a gift to have gotten the opportunity to work with a legend like Crystal Pite and now I see the famous Balanchine’s choreography has influenced her work. Even though Serenade and Singularity are extremely different pieces I can see some influence from Balanchine. The dancers in blue romantic tutus reminded me of champagne bubbles as they floated across the stage. A part that stood out was with four dancers holding hands almost doing a Swan Lake petit allegro. The dancers take a slow in sync descend to the ground into the splits, they sit back and the whole time while still holding hands, they start to loop in between one another while standing up and dancing en pointe while gracefully keeping hold. This elegant tangle goes on creating different patterns and shapes. It was mesmerizing, in one way so complex yet they make it look effortless. Nearing the end one dancer hidden in the midst of the corps de ballet surprises the audience by taking down her hair and falling to the floor while the rest of the dancers exit the stage. A male dancer joins her and they being a grand pas de deux, soon a third dancer a female with her hair down joins them as well. The male partners the two women switching back and forth perfectly in time not letting one fall without him there to catch her. In the end the corps de ballet is in a perfect formation drifting like a cloud doing bourrée in parallel position as three males lift the lead dancer with her hair flowing down her back up into the air on a diagonal tilt, standing tall leaning towards the upper left corner of the stage. The group floats off as the curtain slowly comes down as if they were lifting an angel to the heavens.

This was my first experience seeing the Miami City Ballet, I left the theatre feeling completely satisfied and inspired. When art does that to you I call it a success and that indeed it was. I would recommend this performance to anyone who wishes to witness the human body creating beauty by movements, any lover of dance, and of course fans of Balanchine. I hope many people of Vancouver took the chance to witness this unique opportunity that we do not regularly have available to us in Vancouver. Thank you to Ballet BC and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for exposing our community to incredible dance and art from around the world.

Bibliography:

Miami City Ballet. (2015). The Company: Mission and History. Retrieved from

www.miamicityballet.org/company [Reference in text as (MCB, 2015)]

The George Balanchine Foundation. (2002). Biography: George Balanchine. Retrieved from

www.balanchine.org/balanchine/01/bio.html [Reference in text as (TGBF, 2002)]

Ballet BC. (n.d.). Ballet BC: Performances: Balanchine. Retrieved from

http://www.balletbc.com/balanchine.html

The George Balanchine Trust. (2011). The George Balanchine Trust: Ballets Chronological.

Retrieved from http://balanchine.com/category/chronological/ [Reference in text as (TGBT, 2011)]

American Ballet Theatre. (2015). Education & Training: Library: Ballet Dictionary. Retrieved

from http://www.abt.org/education/dictionary/index.html [Reference in text as

(ABT, 2015)]

Goodreads Inc. (2015). George Balanchine: Quotes. Retrieved from

http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5991.George_Balanchine

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