Friday, June 14, 2024

Dance review: Balanchine is music on stage

Miami City Ballet – founded and directed by Lourdes Lopez, a former Balanchine dancer – is one of America’s finest companies, and Balanchine interpreters. For the first time in Vancouver, the company presents a night dedicated to the prolific choreographer George Balanchine (1904 – 1983).

Balanchine is an historical, non-chronological journey of dance history presented as three different moments in Balanchine’s career. A pioneer of the neoclassical style, Balanchine helped to redefine the classical tradition in new and progressive ways, fusing the tradition and strong technique of ballet with modern dance styles. Balanchine’s transformation of American ballet was is as much on display in this production, as is the strong musicality inherent in much of his work. Balanchine said: “see the music, hear the dance” and Miami City Ballet brilliantly succeeded; they embraced the music and danced it.

The program opens with Ballo della Regina featuring the music of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Don Carlos. This fresh and virtuously fast-paced piece presented challenging variations, especially for the principal roles which is not surprising as it was originally composed to show the great skills of Merrill Ashley, who originated the principal role in 1978. Lively costumes flowed like water, while ballerinas and the male principal gracefully danced in front of a turquoise background.

As Symphony in Three Movements (1972) begins, Balanchine’s genius and the variety of his pieces come to light. In this energetic and intense piece, 32 dancers clad in brightly-coloured leotards moved gracefully and angularly at the same time. The dancers embodied Stravinsky’s music, and there was a visible energy as their whirling movement transformed the space, and their bodies drew the turbulent music into space.

Serenade, the final piece of the night, was composed in 1935 for the American Ballet, with music by Tchaikovsky. This masterpiece, a milestone in the dance history, established Balanchine’s restyling of ballet into an American context as he incorporated real-life rehearsal events including a late arrival, and the fall of an exhausted ballerina. Serenade began with seventeen dancers, who wore pale blue tulle skirts, in diagonals with their arms up; they looked over their hands, as if they were observing the moon. It was a simple, beautiful, breath-taking image that is reminiscent of a Romantic painting.

Miami City Ballet guides us into George Balanchine’s history, showing his journey from a more traditional idea of dance, to a modern conception of bodies and choreography. Through the abilities, prowess and qualities of dancers, the audience really was able to “see the music on stage and hear a piece of dance history”.

Balanchine continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until February 21. Visit for tickets and information.

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