Jerome Robbins’s place in the Pantheon of American choreography is secured. Thanks to the Miami City Ballet‘s current production of Dances at a Gathering, Robbins fans and newcomers alike will be able to experience a miraculous contemporary interpretation of a very special piece of dance. Dances at a Gathering premiered in 1969 at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Robbins created the ballet with gorgeous and sometimes melancholy piano works of Frederic Chopin in mind.
Last Saturday evening’s performance by the Miami City Ballet proved true to the vision and constraints of the legendary choreographer. It would be a colossal injustice to describe the ballet and the experience of the performance any further without addressing the sublimely profound piano work of Miami City Ballet pianist Francisco Renno. Mr. Renno is a player of power and steady discipline, commitment and focus. His performance of works for Dances at a Gathering was nothing short of miraculous when one considers the marathon-like length of nearly 60 minutes of continuous playing necessary to accompany the choreography’s many movements and chapters.
In this Robbins work the piano is more than musical background. In point of fact it is more like a constant dancer, filling the performance hall with delicacy and a constant reminder of the ephemeral grace persistently at play in the luxurious dancing, movements and dramas unfolding on stage before us.
The dancers lived up to the challenged set forth by both Mr. Robbins and Mr. Renno. The superbly-minimal backdrop of a nebulous chromatic expanse with a wisp of blues and violets became the perfect palimpsest of unbridled love, courtship, seduction, and coupling. That the dance group could perform with such ebullient grace amidst the delicacy of Chopin lingering in the air made for a proclamation of power not usually seen in such an august and formal setting.
That Mr. Robbins’s work is both visceral and enchanting makes for the dynamic fusing of the elegance of classical ballet with the raw athleticism and sensuality of more contemporary/modern dance works. On this night the Miami City Ballet ably used that fusion as an inspiration of shimmering longing, the kind that a middle-aged man might possess as he looks fondly back at his youthful loves during his first college years as the leaves turn and a sway of cool air seeps into his lungs.
The second performance of the night was a work co-written by Twyla Tharp and Jerome Robbins called Brahms/Handel and was set to the shimmering sounds of the two great classical composers Johannes Brahms and George Frideric Handel. This largely ensemble work featured the dancers wearing costumes of blue or green with diminishing intensity, adding to the feeling of gentle homespun play. The costumes were not just a secondary consideration but a bold and eye-catching display of colorfieldesque accompaniment that was countered by the spacey twilight cloudscape of the backdrop and the empty stage. One might dare to venture to assert that the ghosts of Morris Louis or Mark Rothko were stirring in the outer limits of the stage, voicing their approvals.
To say this was a crowd-pleasure would not be completely inaccurate but neither would it be incorrect. Brahms/Handel became a rater subdued denouement of a bookend to the more stirring and passionate tension of Dances at a Gathering. It was a more overtly joyful piece with plenty to cheer for.
The two-part program produced as the first project in 2019 for the Miami City Ballet proved to be a perfect way to start a new year in the middle of a season of challenging and rewarding performances. Once again, the Miami City Ballet affirmed their place as one of the premier ballet companies in the nation.