I had a performing career with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. The Joffrey Ballet was an eclectic and diverse New York dance company that was nestled between the very classical ballet company, American Ballet Theater and the neo-classical George Balanchine company, the New York City Ballet. We were in the middle; performing the most classical ballets, the most contemporary ballets, and everything in-between. The huge range of dance was what I loved about the company, and, I believe that same range is what the audiences loved.
Dancers in the Joffrey were not pigeon-holed, or put into a niche. We were expected to adapt to many styles with a massive range of technical demands. Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Jiri Kylian, Paul Taylor, Sir Frederik Ashton, John Cranko and many early 20th century Serge Diaghilev reconstructions. Yes, we danced it all. I loved the studio work that it took to refine so many styles that came to fruition in mere moments on tage. The company spent hours and weeks in rehearsal preparing for seasons in New York and long tours. It was demanding, and fulfilling.
As a dancer, I was fortunate to be a "muse" for Gerald Arpino, the in-house choreographer of The Joffrey. He created a number of his ballets on me. Not that I danced every role, but the movement, the steps and the style were created with Arpino in the quiet hours we spent together in the studio. We understood each other in a dancer/choreographer way. I knew what he wanted. Arpino was relentless. I would do steps over and over until just the right movement quality was found. Arpino had a very definite "side of the body, torso infused movement quality." He wanted ballet dancers to use their classical technique to move with the grounded feel that modern dancers carry. Difficult! He loved seeing dancers dance, and he never wanted his choreography to "look" like steps. Just pure dance.
Now, as I re-stage the pieces that I helped to create or danced, I try to bring out the "Arpino quality" in this generation of dancers; his style of movement and that relentless use of energy. Working in Utah with Brigham Young University, where I’ve now staged two Arpino pieces, it was a process to challenge dancers to move in the style of, and with the energy and dynamics that Arpino expected. We started slowly and the dancers' bodies became very sore. It took time. But as the rehearsals continued, the movement evolved and each dancer found their way. That is what is so wonderful about working with well trained artists. They can take new information and, like a chameleon, can adapt. As a former Joffrey dancer, I danced and moved in the "Arpino way" on a daily basis. I never understood that it is a real style, look and quality of movement that one has to really adapt to and learn.
On Saturday, Nov. 18 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, in the premier performance of its second year, Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami (DDTM) under the directorship of former Miami City Ballet stars, Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, will be performing Arpino’s Light Rain, one of the featured pieces on the program. Light Rain is a ballet I workshopped with Arpino, performing almost every female role over the course of my performing career. I’ve been working with DDTM over the past month to bring Light Rain to life.
DDTM is comprised of a very diverse mixture of dancers. Some are from Cuba and very strictly trained classically, and other dancers are from the States and trained in various schools across our country. Some of the dancers have been trained right here in Miami. The company is a versatile blend of skilled artists. In Light Rain, the cast includes the flexible, austere Gaby, her partner, the prince-like Fabian, vibrant Yaima who dances with the dynamo, Claudia, fleet-footed Yanis, the spirited, D’Angelo, explosive Kevin, sultry Trisha, powerhouse Chloe, sinewy Daniel (a guest from New York), elegant Diana, facile Stefan, enthusiastic Selah, and Dayron who is tall and imposing .
It has been my challenge to unify this eclectic group of dancers, maintaining what is unique about each talented artist and challenging them to venture into qualities that are not their particular norm.
The Cuban dance syllabus is one of the best in the world. It is very classical and traditional. Cuban dancers here want to experience new and different types of movement and the DDTM dancers are a wonderful example of this. Light Rain, with its streamlined look, torso infused movement and speed, is a ballet that is unlike traditional classical dance. It has been a challenge for everyone and the dancers have risen to the challenge.
In Light Rain, there is a freedom within the tight structure, a freedom that is a process to learn how to use. There are many solos within the group sections that particularly allow this freedom to be seen. For example, one solo is more technical, one more animalistic, and one is flashy.
For me, to see the dancers evolve and become comfortable in finding their own way, while not losing the integrity of the ballet, has been rewarding. I think that is what a choreographer or répétiteur hopes for. These enthusiastic, talented and meticulously trained artists have become a unified voice who work collectively, and take ownership as individuals when required. It has been an enriching experience to see their personalities grow through the movement with each rehearsal.
Light Rain is just one of the ballets on Saturday night program, which push the envelope in style and technique. DDTM will be also be performing Jerry Opdenacker’s unusual and passionate, Bliss, Piazolla x 6, and Vicente Nebrada’s beautifully difficult, Una Danza Para Ti (pas de deux).
DDTM is making a very concerted effort to build a repertory that enables amazingly trained ballet dancers the opportunity to dance in a wide variety of styles. They want to present work that connects to their Miami audiences; audiences who have evolved from wanting to see the traditional and desire to open their parameter to more contemporary work. Work that speaks to Miami. They want to see what a dance performance could be.
Light Rain excerpts have been danced by Ballet West, San Francisco Ballet, and numerous smaller companies and has been seen the world over. Previously the Light Rain pas de deux alone was presented by DanceNow! Miami. Now, for the first time, Light Rain will be seen in South Florida in its entirety.
Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami, “Rapture: Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Art Center o Saturday, Nov, 18 at 8 p.m., South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St, Cutler Bay, FL 33189. (786) 573-5316. Tickets: www.smdcac.org. Join a special pre-performance talk in the Lab Theater from 7 to 7:30 p.m.