Culture Compass | March 28

Dance Across South Florida Grows by Leaps and Bounds 

Miami’s dance scene is too often defined by the notorious nightclubs that reached a fever pitch this past weekend as a tsunami of electronic music acts, fans and power players swarmed South Beach and Downtown for industry powwows, exclusive parties and blow-out concerts. The center of the flashy storm dubbed Miami Music Week may have shifted from the 32nd annual Winter Music Conference to the sold-out Ultra Music Festival, jamming Bayfront Park since 2001, where ravers eclipse executives for three sleepless nights.

Moving experiences abound in a distinct subtropical dance scene poised to reach new heights. Arts centers throughout this region offer exposure all season long to consummate movers and shakers grounded in a dizzying spectrum of cultural traditions, which homegrown and visiting troupes are expanding in new directions that merit more widespread attention. Patronage comes in all sizes, from the private and public philanthropy enabling innovation by local choreographers to the ticket sales needed to sustain adventurous programming by rewarding venues for taking logistic leaps.

The variety of shows holds value even for dance skeptics, who may yet be surprised to find unfamiliar forms of movement that appeal to their tastes, such as the improbable body shapes made by globetrotting ensemble Pilobolus, which revealed and disguised the flexible ingenuity behind its trademark collaborative contortions in a master class followed by the epic dreamscape Shadowland at Broward Center for the Performing Arts a week ago. Meanwhile Brigid Baker set in motion Big Beautiful, the latest WholeProject at 6th Street Dance Studio, an environmental installation collectively handcrafted and cinematically activated nightly through this Sunday.

Also touching on the delicate balance of human ambitions and natural resources, Think Blue draws inspiration from the book Why The Sky Is Far Away: A Nigerian Tale, retold by Mary-Joan Gerson, for a sampler of old and new repertory Augusto Soledade Brazzdance premiered this weekend at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The Bahia-born recipient of a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, Soledade has also secured substantial funds at the state and local levels, including six since 2005 through the Dance Miami Choreographers’ Program. Renewing the annual competition this month, Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs offers consultations to established local choreographers seeking funds to create new work, with applications accepted until April 19 for review by a national jury.

Attracting, retaining, and nurturing the next generation is vital to the development of an emerging creative hub. The Miami Dance Mecca Project mentors aspiring dancers and arts administrators through education and employment opportunities at Brazzdance, buoyed by a matching grant from the Knight Arts Challenge .

The 44 grants totaling $2.78 million Knight announced last November include such ambitious endeavors as Forward Motion, the first festival and conference to integrate dancers with and without disabilities, proposed by Karen Peterson and Dancers. While upscaling its core mission, South Florida’s only professional dance company dedicated to mixed-ability work keeps rolling out bold productions like Scrutiny – The World Gone Astray, May 11-12 at Miami Dade County Auditorium, composed by three Miami-based choreographers with a video artist to examine the impact of ubiquitous surveillance on humanity and society.

While setting aside six figures to realize Forward Motion, Knight awarded more modest amounts like $15,000 for Alma Dance Theater to generate awareness and dialogue about dementia by embarking on its first national tour, but cobbling together smaller donations to match grants of any sum is still a formidable challenge for recipients. At fundraisers underway along the East Coast, the all-women contemporary troupe shares excerpts from Flowers for Spring, inspired by the traumatic decline of Marissa Alma Nick’s grandmothers before both died in 2015. Rather than tread the yellow petals strewn onstage for “Daydreaming with Jean,” the company founder directs three dancers to embody fractured states she witnessed firsthand. Yet Nick will stand alone as the powerful Hawaiian goddess Pele poised atop a grand limestone staircase April 12 for Fire Gods in the Garden, a sequence of solos by Miami-based choreographers. Tigertail commissioned Nick, Carla Forte, Hattie Mae Williams and Pioneer Winter to each select a mythic figure and separate spot to ignite on Vizcaya’s moonlit grounds.

South Florida’s self-proclaimed oldest mid-size presenter and producer, Tigertail has originated or imported more than 500 innovative works by local and international artists across disciplines since 1979. Indomitable founder Mary Luft tirelessly corrals sponsors from family-owned businesses and foundations to government agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts. Private and public sources rally around NEA grants, multiplying every federal dollar up to 9 times over, according to the independent federal agency’s estimate of $500 million in matching support for more than 2,400 awards it recommended last year. This exponential return on taxpayers’ investment swamps any savings from the White House push to defund the NEA (never threatened by any previous presidential administration since), appropriated $147.9 million in 2016, a .004 percent drop in the federal budget, just 46 cents for each taxpayer. The financial costs and benefits are meticulously documented by nonprofit advocacy group Americans for the Arts, but the potential losses that would reverberate across all cultural sectors of our community and every other district across the country are too intangible to quantify and too profound to predict.

“The importance of the NEA was immeasurable,” says Edward Villella in a short video about his contributions to American dance produced for the NEA’s 50th anniversary, recalling widespread response to its establishment by Congress in 1965. “It raised visibility so high across the nation, and across all of the art forms.” Appointed by President Johnson to the National Council on the Arts a few years later, Villella advised the NEA for much of its first decade, later feeling its effects firsthand in the 1990s and 2000s as founding artistic director of the Miami City Ballet . “If you were seeking national funding, you had to have a national reputation. By four or five years in, we were ready, and we applied. And we had support from there on, because we kept earning it.”

Indeed, grants to the Miami City Ballet nearly every year since at least 1998 (the earliest archived online by the NEA) have funded the creation and presentation of new works, educated at-risk students, and even preserved jobs in 2009 amid the economic downtown that diminished philanthropic returns. The highest NEA awards of $60,000 apiece provided seed money for A Midsummer Night’s Dream Re-Imagined last year, with new sets and costumes by artist Michele Oka Doner, and this season’s world premiere of The Fairy’s Kiss choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky.

The American Ballet Theatre Artist-in-Residence jumped at the chance to choreograph a long narrative for the Miami dancers he had met five years ago when Villella commissioned Symphonic Dances. “I fell in love with this company for its amazing spirit, beautiful musicality – everything about the Miami City Ballet just puts a smile on my face,” Ratmansky told a crowd gathered in Manhattan at the end of January for “Works & Process at the Guggenheim,” the museum’s series deconstructing the creative process. Ratmansky, projection designer Wendall K. Harrington and MCB Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez discussed their approach to the challenging score and storyline (even George Balanchine was never satisfied by his repeated runs at this classic) Igor Stravinsky debuted in 1928 as an homage to Tchaikovsky on the 35th anniversary of his death, adapting assorted pieces by the composer and Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Ice Maiden.

For his own third take, Ratmansky also enlisted frequent collaborators Jérôme Kaplan and James F. Ingalls to design an avant-garde look inspired by the cubist art that radically altered perspectives and influenced Stravinsky in the early 1900s. An abstracted village sets the stark, eerie tone with Kaplan elongating peaked rooftops of homes that glow from within when Ingalls demarcates immaterial windows by switching on blocks of light as residents are awoken after dark. Kaplan also dresses the villagers in stylized variations on rural Russian traditions that suit Ratmansky’s modern interpretation of folkloric dances celebrating the engagement of a young man (a dashing Kleber Rebello) and maiden (imbued with innocent charm by Tricia Albertson).

Yet more fluid silhouettes befit the timeless costumes and movements of ghostly figures who whisk away an infant when his mother dies in a blizzard and the titular fairy who seals his fate with a kiss, then vanishes until he reaches maturity. Reappearing in the village that raised him, the fairy (given a spirited sophistication by Nathalia Arja) masquerades as a gypsy to tell his fortune, and then as his veiled bride for a dance of deception on the eve of their nuptials. Even when the confused groom regrets his mistaken liaison upon awakening, he is powerless to resist her enchantment or escape his destiny.

Look forward to more magic next season from the team behind The Fairy’s Kiss. Lopez just announced that Harrington and Ingalls will illuminate sets and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo, the iconic Cuban-American design duo enlisted to revamp MCB’s production of The Nutcracker after 28 years. Several tantalizing additions to the repertory will culminate in Ratmansky’s inventive Concerto DSCH to a piano score by Dmitri Shostakovich, a passionate company premiere slated to stir up Balanchine’s ominous waltz La Valse and neoclassical masterpiece Apollo, the combination promising a strong close.

Pacing is key, and planting The Fairy’s Kiss in February evoked winter indoors (even as a relentless sun insisted on baking exposed brick outside air-conditioned matinees), but after ending Program Three on a dark and icy note, Lopez wisely leavens this season’s parting shot with an upbeat trio that heralds spring. Emotional depth evaporates in the balmy air of Program Four, which opened at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach last weekend and comes closer to the company’s South Beach home next Friday-Sunday, March 31-April 2, at the Arsht Center before finishing up April 8-9 in Fort Lauderdale.
The curtain rises on a fresh aperitif with proper solos for half a dozen ballerinas turned out in frilly tutus adorned with bows, a saccharine affectation evoking 18th-century formal attire that follows the1956 patterns cut for Balanchine’s second take on Divertimento No. 15. Skimming the surface, this confection may be a trifle over the top for critical viewers who prefer more subtle complexity, but balance is reserved for the pirouettes and technical details executed with undeniable precision.

A certain regal air to Mozart’s flight of fancy echoes aurally in the William Boyce symphonies excerpted for Arden Court in 1981, but Paul Taylor doesn’t take it too seriously, loosening attitudes and slipping off shoes. While Balanchine relegates most of his lords a-leaping to the background, Taylor calls six men forward to strut and stride center-stage, poking fun at their own shirtless preening. The sprightly Mayumi Enokibara provides a comic release by playfully tiptoeing, ducking and weaving around longer masculine legs, then Ellen Grocki evokes oohs and aahs from a rapt audience by delicately curling up atop the torqued back of another male counterpart, among other unexpected interactions in a show of strength from the corps de ballet.

The entire company fills the stage for crowd scenes and chorus lines in Who Cares?, a 1970 tribute to George Gershwin and classic American musicals. Balanchine strips away snappy lyrics and refines sweeping gestures recognizable to Broadway fans for a balletic twist on the infectious melodies and dramatic flair that highlight some of this company’s most endearing qualities. Renan Cerdeiro romances one starlet after another in three dazzling duets, interspersed with solos allowing each principal to shine.

Patricia and Jeanette Delgado impart pleasure in every polished step they take with their extended family that raised the sisters from star pupils at Miami City Ballet School into hometown heroines. So the news that Patricia is officially leaving the nest (to test her mettle in the dance capital after a decade in MCB’s top tier) adds a bittersweet note to her appearances in Program 4. A special tribute is in the works for the season finale Sunday, April 9, at Broward’s Au Rene Theater, when Delgado takes her last bow with the company in its first production she ever danced onstage as a full-fledged corps member, completing the circle with this love letter to New York theater – and underscoring the irony of its apathetic title, after the George and Ira Gershwin number “Who Cares? (So Long As You Care For Me).”

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