In a bold move, Lourdes Lopez, Miami City Ballet Artistic Director, is showcasing two classic masterworks in conjunction with two world premiers in “Modern Masters” on stage Friday through Sunday, Feb. 10 through 12, at the Adrienne Arsht Ziff Ballet Opera House, Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach and Saturday and Sunday, March 4 and 5 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale.
As a company noted for its impeccable stagings and execution of Balanchine and Robbins ballets, as well as productions of classical full-lengths from the ballet vocabulary, the presentation of an entire modern program that includes seminal pieces by two of the most renowned and respected modern choreographers, Martha Graham and José Limón, is a step beyond the box for MCB and opens parameters for MCB audiences in viewing dance.
Limón’s classic “The Moor’s Pavane” is probably his most well-known, and loved creation. Since its premier in 1949 and set to the music of Henry Purcell, “The Moor’s Pavane” has been added to the repertory of major ballet companies as well as modern companies the world over.
This is the classic Shakespeare story of Othello, his love for his wife, Desdemona, and her ultimate murder when he thinks she has betrayed him. It uses only four dancers: The Moor (originally played by Limón), his gentle wife, Desdemona, his best friend, and ultimate traitor, Iago, and Iago’s wife, Emilia, the enabler.
While it is a violent story of betrayal and murder, “The Moor’s Pavane” is simple and elegant in choreography. It’s a feast for dancers to perform, to delve into their acting skills and find the unique characters of the four players.
MCB principal soloist, Hannah Fischer and principal, Steven Loch worked with répétiteur, Kurt Douglas who staged “The Moor’s Pavane.”
“Every step had an intention, we had to go very slowly,” Fischer says. “Each step tells the story and each character has a very different emotion. The scarf in the piece is like the fifth character, the heirloom that has been passed down. It signifies the Moor’s love for Desdemona. Relationships in the ballet are so important - our relationships to each other, our relationship to the scarf. While it’s not high legs and virtuosity, “ The Moor’s Pavane” is very demanding and precise so the audience can understand each movement, to show the emotion and tell the story.”
Fischer plays Emilia who loves her husband, Iago, but she also loves her friend, Desdemona, so is torn. Fischer says the multi-faceted role is one she can "sink her teeth into."
Loch, who plays the role of The Moor adds, “Limón didn’t want it to be a total retelling of Othello. It is inspired by and uses the structure of the story. Kurt was so good at telling us what each movement meant step by step.”
“What are you saying,” Fischer jumps in. “What does that mean?”
Both dancers enjoy the drama of the piece and think it is a skill and asset that can be used in any classical ballet.
Fischer says, “ I think finding intention and meaning in classical ballet steps, even if it is through the music, is what will keep ballet alive through the centuries. Audiences don’t go to the theater for just technique, they want to be moved, to feel something.”
As former Limón dancer, director and friend/colleague of José Limón, Daniel Lewis, founder of the dance division at New World School of the Arts, was brought in by Lopez to coach “The Moor’s Pavane.”
He says,” It was a joy working with these dancers. They absorbed and digested my corrections with the style and how to come in and out of the drama. They are so well trained in many styles, and open to learning new ways of movement.”
Lewis added that this is the first time a professional dance organization has had a Limón and Graham work performed on the same program.
Fischer and Loch are also dancing in Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels” staged by former Graham dancers, Peter Sparling and Peggy Lyman Hayes, both former Graham company dancers. "Diversion" is comprised of three couples. The white couple represents mature love, the red couple is ecstatic, romantic love and the yellow couple represents young, flirtatious love.
Unlike the narrative of Limón’s piece, “Diversion” is plotless. The feeling of each couple is expressed through total physicality. The white couple is more austere, the red couple has more exuberant and fiery movements and the youthful couple giddier.
“Emotion is expressed through the physicality and body language,” Loch says.
Fischer says that as the mature couple in white, there are moments of stillness and breath.
“It is really beautiful,” she says. “ And it is wonderfully crafted, every movement is done with thought, though the movement is hard.”
The physicality of Graham’s technique required discovering new muscles that are not regularly used as ballet dancers. Fischer says it is tremendously specific and refined.
“Graham work,’ Loch says, “is very down to the floor, contractions and bending your legs a lot. I think we were all very sore after the first week of rehearsals.”
“Diversion’ has a different vocabulary from ballet that includes spirals, tilts, cartwheels, many contractions and use of the core in a very deep way.
“As dancers at our level, it is really interesting to delve into different types of work. We know what we can take and use for other ballets and what we can leave behind,” Loch adds.
“I’m able to bring a lot more power to my ballet work and also a sense of control.”
Amy Hall Garner, choreographing a world premiere, has created work for major dance and theater organizations, worked on off-Broadway musicals, even coaching Grammy award winning Beyoncé. Her ballet for young people, “Rita Finds a Home” a project commissioned by the Joffrey Ballet in conjunction with MCB, premiered in Miami on Feb. 5 after being performed in Chicago.
“Resplendent Fantasy” is Garner’s second piece for MCB. Her initial piece, “Viva” was created virtually in 2021 during the pandemic and was a duet partnership between the Paul Taylor Dance Company and MCB, using one dancer from each company. This is her first opportunity to work with the MCB dancers in the studio.
“First and foremost, it is so great to be working live with the MCB dancers,” Garner says. “They are dancing their hearts out. Even though we’ve been back a little while now, it’s different. There’s an appreciation for the process and being back in the studio, I think we had just never been through a time like that (the quarantine).”
For her piece, Garner wanted to honor the dancers and give them something that they could feel virtuostic and challenged, that they could enjoy, and have a good time on stage, something they could feel good about.
“Resplendent Fantasy” has two casts of five dancers and is danced on pointe.
“It is neo-classical and totally ballet based. If a dancer is not technically proficient, they would not be able to do this piece.” Garner says with a laugh. “I can’t wait to see the piece settle, and for the dancers to make it their own.”
Garner was trained in ballet, modern, jazz, theater - many different genres, that allow her to bring her choreographic voice to many different types of dance organizations.
“Whomever is in front of me, I tend to look upon their strengths, their gifts, and inhabit that. And then I can’t help but bring myself into it,” she says. “Whatever those things are that make me me.”
She believes the diversity in creating work is not only beneficial to push the dancers to make them move in different ways, but it keeps it fun and challenging for herself.
For MCB, she had chosen music, a costume designer and had thoughts about what she wanted to ‘see and say’ in the creation. But it is really getting into the studio to ‘meet and greet’ the dancers to decide how she would organize the groupings.
“MCB is such a strong classical company, especially in Balanchine works. Balanchine, to paraphrase, said he wanted to ‘see the music.’ I love the marriage of music and movement. It’s the root of dance right there,” Garner says. “ I really wanted to give an homage, I wanted to play with that - a dancer who can dig into the musicality, the colors in the music and already have that sensibility.”
Garner says the dancers are very in sync with each other, they help each other and work out problems together. She also likes working with her two small casts so that all the dancers can work together and she has the ability to create with everyone, to see that the choreography works for every dancer and that the dancers can each take ownership of the work.
“I want to be transformed and uplifted when I go to the theater, and I hope that is what my piece will do for audiences,” says Garner. “I’m a black female choreographer and I’m very proud to be that, but I really hope we get to the point where the work speaks for itself, and we look at artists for what they give us and not how they look.”
Pontus Lidberg worked with Lourdes Lopez when he choreographed for “Morphoses,” a New York based dance company. Both knew working together again was in their future, but when and how was the question.
“Modern Masters” is the perfect program to reignite the association.
Lidberg, the AD of Danish Dance Theater in Copenhagen, Denmark creates multi-dimensional works. He has made films, uses projections, digital imagery and explores unlimited possibilities in his dance/multi-media creations.
“I’ve just always been very curious. I come from a ballet tradition, I was a ballet dancer, but my life has taken me to many different forms,” Lidberg says. “Ballet training is intense and it becomes part of your DNA even though I’ve done very contemporary work. I feel like my task is to meet the dancers where they are and perhaps expand on their qualities.”
For MCB, he is creating a world premier called “Petrichor, The Smell of Earth After Rain” created to the First Violin Concerto by Philip Glass.
Petricore is defined as "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather." While most people basically understand what the smell of earth is like after rain, Lidberg wants to bring that feeling to life in his choreography.
The dancers are in pointe shoes and he will use projections.
“The costumes, lights and projections all come together to create this beautiful universe - it’s very colorful, very Miami,” he says. “ It’s like birds of paradise in an abstract jungle - a feeling or sensation.”
Both Garner and Lidberg feel honored to be on a program with Graham and Limón, two modern choreographers whose work has stood the test of time. Lidberg has worked with the Graham Company as a choreographer and loves the pure clarity of Graham’s movement.
Garner says Limón and Graham movement is part of her training as a dancer and there is no way it can’t be part of who she is today.
“Modern Masters” hosts two modern choreographic icons and two contemporary world premieres by choreographers of today.
“I think people are going to have extreme thoughts about this program,” Fischer says. “It’s very different for us, but I think it is so necessary for audiences to see. It also is wonderful for us as dancers to grow and learn with different types of work. Hopefully parameters will be opened to new types of dance.”
Lewis says, ”I truly look forward to enjoying this program. A bold and beautiful move by Miami City Ballet.”
Miami City Ballet's “Modern Masters”
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami: Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12.
Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd, West Palm Beach: Friday, Feb. 17, Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18 and 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5.
For ticket information, call or text at (305) 929-7010.