On February 15, 2014 the Miami City Ballet presented three dances under the collective title of Triple Threat. The first, Episodes, was set to five pieces by Anton von Webern. It is a recreation of a ballet created by George Balanchine in 1959. Webern was a key member of the Second Viennese School which I always thought was one Viennese School too many. His music sounds to these unenlightened ears like orchestral borborygmi. Balanchine’s choreography is a masterpiece of contortion and difficult positions that are accurate visual representations of the sonic contortions emanating from the orchestra pit.
The Miamians performed their task with admirable dexterity and panache; but it’s hard for the typical troglodyte observer like this correspondent to truthfully state that he found the experience enjoyable. There were a lot of dancers on an empty stage all of whom seemed quite competent, but nothing musical occurred until the final episode which is based on the ‘Ricercar a 6’ from Bach’s The Musical Offering.
The fifth episode was originally danced by Paul Taylor of the Martha Graham company. In the Miami production Neil Marshall danced the very difficult solo. He realized all the part’s potential, though I must confess I found it more gymnastics than dance.
Episodes took about four days to perform or perhaps it was a little more than 30 minutes. As a reward the audience was given about 8.5 minutes of Tchaikovsky. The bon-bon was a pas de deux imaginatively entitled Pas de Deux. The choreography was also by Balanchine. The music was originally composed for the third act of Swan Lake but dropped by the ballet’s choreographer Marius Petipa. I can easily understand why it was excluded from the complete ballet. Musically it’s not up to the standard of the rest of the score. But after what preceded it, it sounded great. The dancers were Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado.
Ms Catoya has been with the Miami company since 1999. Time is crueler to dancers than virtually any other occupation. And while Ms Catoya was elegant and showed a lovely line there was a little bit of tentativeness in her performance. Penteado also has been with the Miami Ballet since 1999, but retains the full athletic vigor that his part demands. Taken as a whole Pas De Deux was lovely and engaging. Comparing the choreography of the two dances of the first half of the evening leaves the observer dazzled at the virtuosity and variety of Balanchine’s technique.
The second half of the program was devoted to Jerome Robbin’s setting of Bernstein’s suite from West Side Story. This choreography first appeared at the New York City Ballet in 1995. Robbins, of course, was equally adept at both classical ballet and Broadway theater dancing. The dances he staged are much closer to Broadway than ballet. They also require the dancers to sing. The Miami company with one exception really doesn’t have the theater techniques that this dance requires. While they were good they were always a bit off. The lone exception was Sara Esty as Anita. Her rendition of ‘America’ stopped the show. If she wants to, she could make a career in musical theater.
If you have the great dancing Robbins offered in the screen version of West Side Story in your head, the Miami version will seem a bit slow and not idiomatic. The audience liked it and I suppose that’s all that counts.