Posted on July 11, 2017
In the summer, our thoughts turn to the holidays, but I had something of my own busman’s holiday back in March when I went to see Miami City Ballet performing for one night only in a south Florida town called Naples. It was a Tuesday night, the drive took two hours, and I’d had a long day of rehearsals. Some people might have said it was a needless trip, but I came away invigorated – it made me think about how valuable seeing other companies and dancers perform is to professionals. The trip made me reflect on both my identity as a dancer, and the enjoyment of being a “regular” dance-goer.
The US astounds me by the sheer number of large venues for the arts there are peppered around each state, often in places you’d least expect. Miami City Ballet were performing at the futuristically named Artis – Naples, an attractive theatre, but devoid of any of the cosier charms of older venues. I was surprised, too, at the volume of people in attendance. The Miami troupe were dancing a triple bill of ballets I wouldn’t initially have said guaranteed box office success – yet here was an auditorium of enthusiastic and engaged people ready to enjoy George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, and Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces.
Dancing Times readers will probably know something of Miami City Ballet’s work from Leigh Witchel’s reviews in recent years. This would be the first time I would be watching the company live, though I’ve enjoyed its creative social media on Instagram. It’s astonishing how familiar its use of this platform had made the company to me. What’s intriguing for a dancer sat in an audience watching another company perform is the initial impression that emerges. When you’re on stage opening a ballet, an extraordinary rush of air hits you about three seconds after the curtain goes up; unsettling, but also enlivening. The reverse is true when I’m watching a performance: about a minute in, the company’s esprit comes into focus. Your dancer’s mind starts to establish what their daily class drills into their bodies. I adored Miami City Ballet’s dancing, full of vigour, with a refreshing, youthful energy. Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet is probably not very well known in the UK, though you can find extracts on YouTube from a television broadcast on February 17 of New York City Ballet in Paris. Some ballets can make the dancer feel as if they’re moving through colour; Walpurgisnacht is like watching a blizzard of purple blossoms being shaken off a tree. I laughed when I discovered some dancers refer to the ballet’s finale as “fire in the beauty parlour”; I guess Balanchine, or his dancers, had a sense of humour!
I had seen Polyphonia and Glass Pieces before, but ballets always take on a different flavour with different companies, in different places. What was probably a simple “lost in translation” moment for me was when other audience members chuckled at one particularly acrobatic section in Polyphonia; in London, this pas de deux receives a more contemplative reception. Glass Pieces is a work I’d love to see performed in the UK. The programme note records The New York Times calling the 1983 ballet “a picture of our times – the electronic age, the computer age.” Though it might not be so in the zeitgeist today, it’s still beguiling for the mysterious duets that are nestled amongst more pedestrian episodes. I’ve seen the ballet three times in the US – twice performed by New York City Ballet – and each time the ballet has taken on new dimensions, particularly the last movement, Excerpts from Akhnaten’s playfully ritualistic, gender-divided groupings.
It’s great to watch dancers who then leave an imprint on your mind. The next day in your own ballet class, you find yourself trying things a different way, risking a bit more. You’re “competing” with the memory of the dancers in your head, and it can draw unexpected things out of you. The friend I had gone to Naples with had previously worked with one of the soloists of Miami City Ballet. We got to see her after the performance and talked convivially, sharing in the sense of community there can be between dancers: you delight in the things that went fantastically, you notice in microscopic detail when something perhaps didn’t go as planned. The experience was a recognition that each dancer is themselves absorbed in a constant, lively exchange with their own bodies, and it is tremendously rewarding to take time out and share in another company’s pursuits. I got the chance to see the Joffrey Ballet last year, and had a similarly emboldening evening, experiencing my first taste of Justin Peck’s choreography. I enjoyed it at the time as a novel event, but it’s only now, more than a year on, that I realise how useful this experience was. The memories of performances carry on mutating in your mind, forging new links in the chain of your artistic life.
Featured image: MCB dancers Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter in Glass Pieces. Photograph: Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Miami City Ballet.
Slideshow, first image: Miami City Ballet’s Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter inJerome Robbins Glass Pieces. Photograph: Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Miami City Ballet.
Second image: Lauren Fadeley and Jovani Furlan in George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Photograph: Daniel Azoulay, courtesy of Miami City Ballet.
Third image:Lauren Fadeley inin George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Photograph: Daniel Azoulay, courtesy of Miami City Ballet .