In Miami, the Everest of the Climbing Ballet: "Swan Lake"

MIAMI – “Will this bird ever land?” Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, said in January. The bird she was refer...


MIAMI – “Will this bird ever land?” Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, said in January.

The bird she was referring to is “Swan Lake”. For years, the Miami City Ballet performed a one-act version of George Balanchine, but in 2016 Lopez decided it was time for the company, which she has led since 2012, to take on the full ballet, with all the accompaniments.

But she would have to wait six years – and face a pandemic – before bringing her “swan” on stage. The largest and most expensive production in Miami City Ballet’s history is finally slated to premiere Feb. 11 at the Arsht Center here.

In search of the right production, Lopez had turned to versions performed around the world, each reflecting the taste of a different choreographer. One night she clicked on a YouTube video of a production recently created in Zurich.

“At one point, I remember the prince reaching out and his hand brushed against Odette’s tutu, and I started crying,” she said during a break between sessions. rehearsals at the company’s studios in Miami Beach in November. Odette, the heroine of the ballet, is a woman transformed into a swan by an evil magician. “It wasn’t about a bird,” Lopez said, “it was about a woman and the tragedy of the human experience.”

The choreographer was Alexei Ratmansky, but his sources were ballet notations written only a decade after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s “Swan Lake” premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895. These notations were like a bridge to the origins of ballet. ballet before it was changed by generations of choreographers and dancers.

Shortly after watching this video, Lopez approached Ratmansky, who agreed to stage the ballet for her in Miami. A premiere was planned for 2019, but had to be postponed because funding was not in place.

Opening was reset for 2021 – but Covid got in the way. This week’s premiere also felt like a gamble at times. During the winter holidays, the Omicron variant spread rapidly and several dancers tested positive for the virus. The return of the troupe to the studio had to be postponed and the rehearsal schedule adjusted to take into account the dancers in the various quarantine phases. For weeks, the tests are frequent, sometimes daily, within the company, and the repetitions are hidden.

“It’s like ballet looking at me and saying, ‘How much do you really want me? ‘” Lopez said during our chat in January.

The answer, it seems, is, very, very good. Miami City Ballet, founded in 1985 by the former New York City Ballet star Edward Villella and philanthropist Toby Ansin, is not known for his story ballets, especially those made in the 19th century. Instead, he specialized in the works of Balanchine (the founding choreographer of the New York City Ballet), combined with the mostly abstract ballets of Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Justin Peck and others.

Which doesn’t mean it’s the first time these dancers have tackled a 19th century classic. The company danced “Giselle” and “Don Quixote”, although they are not essential in its repertoire. (Balanchine’s 1951 one-act Swan, which focuses on the lakeside ballet acts, underplays the narrative.)

“It really is the greatest ballet, bar none,” Lopez said of why she wanted to take on a full-length version. “I think it will really inform dancers and help them grow. It’s something they can come back to again and again.

It’s exaggerated for a company of 54 dancers. To fill its ranks, the company had to augment the corps with more than a dozen senior students from the school. Fifty-seven dancers take part in each show.

Originally produced by the Zurich Ballet and La Scala, with ambient decor and period tutus by Jérôme Kaplan, this “Swan Lake” is also a throwback to the dance style of an earlier era. Ratmansky and his wife, Tatiana Ratmansky, who assists him, studied a form of dance notation developed in the late 19th century to get an idea of ​​how it was performed in the years close to the ballet’s premiere.

They found many discrepancies between the “Swan Lakes” played today – versions proliferate – and what was written. The notations, recorded in 1905, reveal faster tempos, more mime, different schemes for the corps de ballet, forgotten poses. Perhaps most surprising to contemporary audiences, the famous lakeside pas de deux for the heroine, Odette, and her suitor, Prince Siegfried, includes a third participant, Siegfried’s best friend Benno.

In this earlier version of the ballet, Benno assists the partnership at key moments. It pulls Odette away from Siegfried, creating the impression that she is gliding through the air and acts as a pedestal for her to walk on, so that she appears to be floating in front of Siegfried’s eyes. These moments add a touch of anti-gravity magic to the scene.

Benno was present in the pas de deux of some productions in Russia until the end of the 1950s and in Europe and the United States until the beginning of the 1960s, when the arrival of stars like Nureyev made his presence superfluous. “They wanted to emphasize Siegfried,” Russian historian Sergey Konaev said in an email. “Soviet ballet did not appreciate incidental roles.”

“It’s almost like he’s not there,” Nathalia Arja, one of the dancers slated to perform the role of Odette, said of Benno during a Zoom call after a rehearsal. “His friend is there to help him capture this magical creature,” added Renan Cerdeiro, who will play Siegfried in Odette d’Arja.

Arja and Cerdeiro, who will star in the opening night cast (if all goes as planned) have shared the stage for years and studied at the same school in Brazil, the Escola de Dança Alice Arja in Rio de Janeiro, led by her mother. . “Renan was my first partner,” Arja said.

The two performed Balanchine’s one-act “Swan Lake” and the so-called “Black Swan Pas de Deux” as a stand-alone piece. But it looks different. “It brings back so much more of the story,” Arja said. “You tell the story every moment. An arabesque is never just an arabesque.

Much of this drama is conveyed through mime, a system of codified gestures that imitate words. Plot points can be explained with more clarity than they could by abstract motion. But mime is considered old-fashioned and is often cut from old ballets. Ratmansky feels this adds texture to the story.

“I love that the characters talk to each other and you can tell who’s saying what,” he said.

This was illustrated during a rehearsal last November at the company’s headquarters. As the last act by the lake began, the dancer rehearsing Odette, Katia Carranza – there are four casts – staggered. Showing where she came from, she “told” her fellow swans that the man she loved (she clutched her hands to her heart) had pushed her away (she threw up her arms as if throwing something thing in the trash) and that here, in this place, she would die (she reached down until her wrists crossed in front of her).

Then, as the prince joined her, her arms and neck hung down, as if she had lost the will to live. This gentle, less formal way of holding the body can be seen in vintage photographs, Ratmansky said, as well as in the early films of British ballerina great Margot Fonteyn: “No tension, no tendons sticking out in the neck. , and the arms are human. and soft.

This softness is the opposite of the crisp and tense dynamism of Balanchine to which the dancers are accustomed. “They need to learn to sing more with their bodies,” Ratmansky said. “It’s about having a soft back, a soft neck. They should sing when on pointe, with their back, spine and hands.

Getting there was not an easy process for the dancers. “It’s a never-ending quest,” Arja said of this way of moving, which she attributes as much to Ratmansky as to the intentions of Petipa and Ivanov. “The combination of technique with freedom, clear and powerful at the same time, is very Ratmansky.”

He encourages this quality in rehearsal with a running commentary, sculpting the movement moment by moment: “Sustain, resist a little bit here. “Stand up and support the shoulder.” “Relax your upper body.” “Move more lightly.”

Meanwhile, Tatiana Ratmansky devoted her attention to the corps de ballet, coaxing a more expansive lyrical style. “We worked a lot to be softer,” she said after a rehearsal. “I teach them to trust their bodies more, to let their hips go one way and their upper body the other way, with contrapposto,” a visual art term that describes the distribution of weight on the body and the resulting curves. .

As Ratmansky told the dancers at the end of a long, sweaty rehearsal: “’Swan Lake’ is like Everest. It takes a collective effort to reach the top.

To all of this effort, the dancers of Miami City Ballet bring their signature energy and powerful musical momentum. The large ensembles, interpreted to the rhythm of a catchy clip, reveal syncopated rhythms that are often lost in the productions of other companies. There are no static moments.

But the challenges are real. “Rehearsing with a mask is difficult,” Arja said, “because you can only see your partner’s eyes, and you can’t have that full embrace.” And there is this worry, every day, that a test will come back positive, forcing them to stay at home for several days, wasting precious preparation time, or even that a performance will have to be canceled.

Even so, two weeks before the premiere, Arja felt more confident. “With the help of Ratmansky, and just by repeating it over and over again, I discovered so many levels of emotion in my character,” she said. “It’s something that I had to overcome on my own. And I know that not everything will come out the night of the premiere. It will be a voyage of discovery.

A few weeks before the premiere, there was a feeling that the bird could finally land. “You can’t understand what it means to bring this incredible masterpiece to South Florida,” Lopez said. “That’s what we do – we rise to the occasion.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: In Miami, the Everest of the Climbing Ballet: "Swan Lake"
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