The company’s last program of the season, “Entradas (Entrances),” offers a diverse yet complementary set of dances. It comes to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts May 19-21.
For artistic director Lourdes Lopez, this comes with the excitement of projects she’s long wanted to bring to fruition: breathing new life into a repertory classic and inviting Cuban-born composer/conductor Tania León, a 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner and 2022 Kennedy Center honoree (a trailblazing Latina of color, Lopez asserts), to lead the orchestra.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the featured choreographers are George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. “This program really highlights why the two of them are geniuses,” says Lopez.
Prominently, “Entradas” includes re-imagining Balanchine’s Square Dance, a genre-defying choreography to Baroque strings. First staged in 1957, the ballet then featured a square-dance caller who put in bold the bond between this ballet to Vivaldi and Corelli and an American folk tradition whose rhythms and formations migrated from European courts to the hoedown.
While enthusiastic about Americana, Balanchine decided to omit the caller reviving the work at New York City Ballet in 1976, instead adding a soulful solo for the male lead. This made for a more stately piece, without the mischievous twang of the original that still celebrated how canonical music can spark a do-si-do as nicely as a gargouillade — a devilish ballet step that stirs the air.
Lopez says, “I’ve been curious about Square Dance for some time and wanted to bring back that same feeling of the original, wondering how it would change the work if the lyrics were added back. However, I realized the world has changed, and they didn’t fit anymore. So I thought about having lyrics that reflect us today — our Miami, pop culture, and, of course, our two languages.”
To provide text in Spanish and English, she recruited Rudi Goblen, recently at the Yale School of Drama and known to us for his performances with Ted Castellanos’ D-Projects and Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre. The patter will gain power from Miami actor/vocalist Danniel Giraldo’s delivery, and the party heats up in the subtropics.
“This is one of Balanchine’s hardest ballets,” notes Lopez. “Fast and constant, it never lets up. You need tremendous stamina and look like you’re having fun.”
Principal Tricia Albertson is quick to confirm the demands of Square Dance, which she handily clinched in her 26 years with the company. Now about to bid farewell to the stage, she’ll still show plenty of mettle tackling this program’s other Balanchine work, Symphony in Three Movements, named for its Stravinsky score.
“Dancing to Stravinsky, there’s no such thing as automatic pilot, so I can’t say I’ve petered out,” Albertson declares with a laugh.
Premiered in 1946 and reportedly energized by WWII documentary images, Symphony in Three Movements was Stravinsky’s first major composition in America. Responsive to its clamor, Balanchine spread big movement on a ballet field — some would say battlefield — with commanding positions and advances from dancers — mostly in black and white, with the three lead ballerinas in pink.
But don’t mistake the dancers for tender blossoms. Whether jumping as if over mines or ricocheting about, they display — as Albertson underscores — an intense individuality.
“It’s crazy, but I danced Symphony in Three at a School of American Ballet workshop right before I got hired here, so for me, this is like coming full circle,” she says.
Acknowledging that nod from the universe, she recognizes another blessing in dancing the central pas de deux with Renan Cerdeiro, an anchor for her not just through his technique but even in his gaze, which bolsters their eerily inflected and angled exchange. “That’s magical,” says Albertson, who feels the searching buoyancy of her part ultimately brings a hopeful strain to the ballet’s turbulent scenario.
As Albertson readies an exit, 29-year-old Ukrainian-born and trained principal Stanislav Olshanskyi — at MCB only six months — has entered a new phase of his career performing Robbins works for the first time. West Side Story Suite behind him, he’s now immersed in the intimacy of Afternoon of a Faun, recently performed with the New World Symphony for its closing program on May 7.
“Honestly, there’s nothing I find uncomfortable in this,” he confesses, enjoying the piece’s everyday atmosphere. Here a young man and woman try out moves in a ballet studio as ancient legend wafts in from the Debussy score, which was inspired by an 1876 Stéphane Mallarmé poem about a faun describing his encounter with nymphs.
The Robbins ballet reflects carnal and ethereal qualities in the dancers’ meeting as we view them frontally, the fourth wall like the studio mirror. Their preening has led some critics to call Faun a study in narcissism. But Robbins considered such self-regard just a tool of their art. And Olshanskyi agrees.
“When I have time at night,” he says, “I come into the studio, put on some music, and improvise. I watch in the mirror, and I look this way and that, maybe change a pose or not. That’s about process — what Robbins, I think, wanted to show.”
It’s through such physicality that Olshanskyi discovers an on-stage character, in this case, one simpler and more natural — as he points out — than the princes he specialized in at the National Opera of Ukraine.
Robbins considered his Antique Epigraphs, from 1984 and now an MCB premiere, the ideal companion piece to the much earlier Faun. That pairing, Lopez judges, is “Jerry’s meditation on Debussy. Creating two different worlds with the same composer and musical style works brilliantly.”
To an orchestrated version of Debussy’s Six Épigraphes Antiques and “Syrinx,” for solo flute, the ballet features a coterie of eight women in diaphanous gowns who strike sculptural poses derived from an antiquities museum. Whether still or in evanescent maneuvers, they’re spellbinding — their fleeting sensuality a reminder that Debussy’s Épigraphes was kindled by The Songs of Bilitis, erotic poems purportedly written by a Greek woman in Sappho’s circle, but in truth penned by Belgian-born author Pierre Louÿs in 1894.
All these choreographed compositions, according to Maestra León, have the advantage of also being established concert works. As a conductor — and not only for ballet — she says, “The music just speaks to me.”
For her, conducting for MCB comes with the pleasure of a long friendship with Lopez and the authority of an even longer relationship with ballet. León was the founding musical director and a contributing composer at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. And she says, “I was fortunate there because Balanchine himself, sitting at the piano, coached me in many of his works. He was a fantastic musician.”
At Dance Theatre of Harlem, León developed the wide focus needed, as she puts it, “for a total collaboration between musicians in the pit with the conductor and what’s happening on stage. Everything expressed must remain congruent with the sound.”
With opera and Broadway also on her resumé, León reveals a fundamental asset: “I am very flexible and always willing to learn.” Moreover, she remains wary of musical labels that divide periods, places, and, most important, people. Art should open doors. So, as in this program, welcome myth into the workaday and enlist the classical for some fun with just folks.
“Music without borders,” León proposes, “might lead to humanity without borders, too.”
– Guillermo Perez, ArtburstMiami.com
Miami City Ballet’s “Entradas.” 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21; at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-929-7010; miamicityballet.org. Tickets cost $39 to $189.