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Review 1, 4-28: Miami Slice
Villella & Co. Illuminate Mr. B -- and the Pitfalls of Jazz Ballets
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEWARK -- Miami City
Ballet flew within New York City's orbit in a one-night stand Friday
at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall. The
program, heavy with big band/jazz age crowd pleasers -- artistic
director Edward Villella's "The Fox-Trot: Dancing in the Dark,"
and Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" -- also included Mr.
B's classic, "The Four Temperaments." The evening acted as a lens
to clarify the Balanchine technique in some ways, but also made
apparent some distinctive qualities of New York City Ballet that
can be taken for granted by State Theater regulars.
MCB is known for doing
justice to Balanchine's style, which demands pure traditional technique
as well as the ability to abandon it when necessary. Balanchine
choreographed "The Four Temperaments" in 1947, in his early years
of experimentation, to a score he commissioned by Paul Hindemith
intended not to support a dance, but for its own pleasures. It is
one of Balanchine's ballets that feels at once particularly modern
yet unambiguously grounded in sensible form-follows-function movement,
such as partnering based less on lifting than on leveraging weight.
MCB danced it with refreshing
directness -- perfectly level arms, sharply pointed feet by both
women and men, a disciplined musicality, and a general sense of
high finish. The dancers' hands are kept neatly arranged, in contrast
to NYCB's extremely splayed hand, which to my eye distorts the line.
There are some technical oddities in "Four Temperaments" -- pivoting
an extended leg in the hip socket in a very unnatural way, or whipping
the body's orientation in a tour jete landing -- and the dancers
looked comfortable with these demands. Michelle Merrell (the "choleric"
temperament), in a big violent final movement entrance, stormed
the stage. Confident and strong, she reminded me of Porsche, especially
the way she could brake from full-speed-ahead charges.
The other two works
on the program, while different enough from one another, both used
popular dance idioms and unfortunately wound up feeling redundant.
The night began with 'Fox-Trot,' just one act of a longer work called
The Neighborhood Ballroom, to big band songs by Carmichael, Ellington,
and others. It is clearly an appealing idea for ballet companies
to add such a ballroom ballet to the repertory -- the elegant costumes
and social dance premise are good enough excuses alone, besides
adding variety to a pure ballet roster. But bottom line, ballet
dancers are not generally adept at a jazzier style -- they just
can't let loose enough. In recent months, I've seen this in Eifman
Ballet's "Who's Who," City Ballet's decadent "Thou Swell," and now
this work. I hate to dredge up an old misogynistic chestnut, but...
they run like girls. That is, the choreography asks them to run
like girls, and it rings hollow. Of course, besides the prissy chassees
and the pathetic shoulder shimmies, there is all the kicking of
the ears that is seemingly required, the better with which to show
off gams. After awhile it feels more Vegas than ballet, not to mention
the fact that it is a waste of much hard-earned technique.
Which brings us to the
evening's final work, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," to Richard Rodgers's
composition. I have a similar beef with this piece from 1936 (!)
created by Balanchine as part of the musical comedy "On Your Toes."
The old show-within-a-show, Keystone cops, hoofer/showgirl spiel
works every time in theory, but it seems a shiny folly that requires
more than the average bit of acting, or rather, caricature, in addition
to the hand shimmies and hip wiggles. Led by Jennifer Kronenberg
(who also starred in 'Fox Trot') and John Hall, Miami's dancers
performed it well enough, but I missed the star quality of someone
like Damian Woetzel, who headlined the NYCB cast I saw last season.
I'm not familiar enough with Miami's dancers to expect them to fulfill
expectations or not, so it is liberating to watch them dance a technical
piece like 'Four Temperaments.' On the other hand, in a work such
as 'Slaughter,' I miss the familiar charisma. Either way, I look
forward to the chance to becoming better acquainted with Miami's
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