Miami City Ballet’s program "Modern Masters" delivered an evening that looked back at two timeless works from the past and presented world premieres of two pieces deeply rooted in the here and now.
The past "Modern Masters" were works by two of giants of modern dance, choreographer Martha Graham and José Limón. Both pieces had their premiere within a year of each other — Graham’s "Diversion of Angels" in 1948 and Limón’s "The Moor’s Pavane" in 1949. Miami City Ballet’s dancers displayed a strong command of the intricacies of Graham’s and Limón’s distinct techniques.
"Diversion of Angels" is performed to music by Norman Dello Joio and is set against an azure blue backdrop. Graham’s choreography offers a rendering of various shades of love. It features three couples — one costumed in white representing mature love, one in red portraying romantic love and the couple in yellow delineating flirtatious adolescent love.
While the dancers traded off for performances, this one featured Dawn Atkins and Chase Swatosh in white who gave a calm and steady performance evoking mature love. Atkins captured the sweeping movements of the Woman in White with frequent poses held for extended lengths of time. Around her, a chorus of male and female dancers criss-crossed the stage in back attitudes traveling forward.
Katia Carranza and Steven Loch as the Couple in Red exemplified passion as Carranza raced across the stage using the momentum of Graham’s arm-swinging run. She achieved Graham’s deep contraction of the pelvis along with Graham’s off-balance side tilts-catching herself right before the moment of collapse.
Juliet Hay and Ariel Rose displayed youthful love in their pas de deux. Hay epitomized the playful, coquettish energy of the Woman in Yellow. Her countless jumps and leaps were so springy that she seemed not to touch the floor.
"Diversion of Angels" and its romantic score gather intensity towards the end of the piece as a chorus of men surrounds the Women in White. The score reaches its final chord as the Woman in White is framed with a crown formed out of the wide-open hands of her partner.
Miami City Ballet’s dancers did not disappoint in their performance of Graham’s choreography, capturing the elements of her signature technique. There is a difference between imitating Graham’s movement and actually doing it. Miami City Ballet’s dancers did it — and did it well.
José Limón’s "The Moor’s Pavane: Variations on the Theme of Othello" is wildly cited by critics as his masterpiece. It is set to music by Henry Purcell with lighting by John D. Hall. The work is more than a half-century old and is still performed by dance companies around the world. Limón has taken William Shakespeare’s "Othello" and choreographed a twenty-minute piece based on the relationships between the four main characters: The Moor (Steven Loch), His Friend (Chase Swatosh), His Friend’s Wife (Hannah Fischer) and The Moor’s Wife (Katia Carranza). Limón distills the tightly held emotions between the four: aggression, tenderness, intimacy, suspicion, and jealousy.
It is rare to see four dancers depict their characters with real, human emotions; Miami City Ballet dancers do so in "The Moor’s Pavane." It was evident from the beginning why Loch’s Moor and Carranza’s ill-fated Desdemona (his wife) are together as the depth of their love is clear in their interaction with each other. The patterns and Limón’s choice of the Pavane, a court dance from the Renaissance, bring the dancers together in duets and quartets that add more tension between the characters. When the group separated the dancers were superb in creating suspicion and jealousy which leads to tragedy.
The two world premieres on the program, "Resplendent Fantasy" and "Petrichor" are welcome additions to Miami City Ballet’s repertory.
Each, in its own manner, is a celebration of music, movement, nature and the creative process. "Resplendent Fantasy," choreographed by Amy Hall Garner, is set to music by Jonathan Dove, Oliver Davis and Komitas.
The piece is performed with a small group of five dancers that cover the stage with explosive energy and joy. The dancers enter and exit the stage, their arms ripple and their legs develop into high extensions.
In a duet between a man and a woman, the female dancer holds a beautiful arabesque pose and is then lifted into a high overhead lift. Garner places much emphasis on the relationship between movement and music. The result is a work where movement effortlessly converges with the music and the dancers perform in a state of joyous exuberance.
Pontus Lidberg’s "Petrichor: The Smell of Earth After Rain," is choreographed to Philip Glass’s "Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra." It is set against a backdrop, which changes colors from black to white and to other colors that drip and blend into each other, much as Lidberg’s piece, with its sense of urgency, seems to wash over us and engulf us into its own world.
"Petrichor" is an ensemble work.
The dancers fill the stage, sometimes in small groups and at other times in a cluster. This is a wondrous world that requires rapt attention because the picture is in a constant state of flux.
In one moment dancers leap high, in the next moment, they are posed seated on stage acting as silent witnesses to the events occurring around them.
There is a busy and fast-moving duet, performed while other dancers are posed, serenely observing the action taking place around them. The dancers gather center stage into a cluster facing different directions. A male dancer emerges from the group and performs a solo. Three couples repeat a sequence of piqué turns. There are lots of partnering and overhead lifts and numerous returns to the center cluster. This is how Lidberg leaves us, waiting for the cluster to disperse and the dancers to begin dancing again.
Miami City Ballet’s “Modern Masters” was performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center, then at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. It continues with two shows in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. $39, $40, $79, $115, and $189. Program 3, "Fresh and Fierce" is at the Adrienne Arsht Center, Friday, April 14-16, at the Kravis Center, April 21, 22 and 23, and at the Broward Center, on April 29 and 30. For tickets, call (305) 929-7010 or miamicityballet.org