If there’s any doubt about whether Miami, an infamous tourist destination, has the artistic chops to be recognized as a hotbed for performance, a home for the development and exhibition of the caliber of dancers whose mere arabesques feel like a kick to the gut, then one need look no further than Miami Contemporary Dance Company. Whether you’re a fan of a ballet barre or not — and this body is not — simply watching the ease of the MCDC dancers’ extensions and fluidity of transitions makes even this post-modern performer want to dust of the old leotard and tights.
By modernizing a vocabulary of classical dance — with an unexpected twitch of the fingers or a quotidian gesture that interrupts this particularly “shapey” choreography — staged on virtuosic technicians who clearly feel the movement in the marrow of their bones, MCDC continues the tradition of producing and showcasing the strong dance skills made known by institutions such as Miami City Ballet, New World School of the Arts, and the myriad of ballet conservatories throughout South Florida.
Led by internationally acclaimed Artistic Director Ray Sullivan for over a decade, Miami Contemporary Dance Company joins forces with Paolo Mohovich’s Balletto Dell’Esperi, with a guest choreographic appearance by Brigid Baker, this weekend at Lincoln Road’s Colony Theater.
That MCDC is known for their exceptional technicians, who also know more than a thing or two about the subtly of gesture and expression in performance, is no accident. The director is the founder of the Sullivan Technique of Contemporary Movement, taught at Miami Contemporary Dance Center of Movement and Choreographic Studies on Miami Beach. This movement technique seeks to integrate the body “physically, mentally, energetically.” By creating a holistic system of movement that asks the dancer to “be a conscious participant in [his/her] movement[s],” to dance out of choice and not habit, Sullivan is able to integrate the traditions of ballet technique. He couples discipline with both creativity and a bodily intelligence apparent in every quirky port de bras. An example of how this is put into practice is with MCDC’s “Dying Swan.” In this homage to the ballet classic, “Swan Lake,” the powerful male soloist unravels his body with an undulant spine in the shadows of a spotlight, exploring multiple levels, challenging the verticality of the classical ballet “uprightness” but without taking away from the promised control of technical prowess. This high level of training and choreographic innovation in contemporary dance has not gone unnoticed, for MCDC has been named “Best Dance Company” multiple years by the Miami New Times, and “Best Dance Center 2005” by the SunPost.
This weekend’s Miami/Italia 2011, which promises to ground its aesthetic and emotional explorations in genre-faithful, technically driven choreography, presents the sixth stage of a relationship made possible by the support of Miami-Dade County’s International Exchange Grants and Italy’s La Regione Piemonte, along with other corporate and government sponsorship. The culmination of a cross-Atlantic relationship that has taken place both in person and via email, Internet chat, skype, Facebook, and digital videos, Miami/Italia 2011 speaks to the richness of collaboration and dance’s ability to border-cross on multiple platforms. MCDC and Balletto dancers step into each other’s shoes as they trade masters for the night, each company performing works created for them by the others’ directors.
MCDC will perform “Strange News from Another Star,” choreographed to Blur’s song with the same title, set on the company in 2009. Alternatively, Balletto, an Italian contemporary dance company that features soloists from several nationalities, will perform Sullivan’s “Playing House,” a tale of domestic violence that takes place in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the United States, created for the Italian company last Fall. Mohovich’s company will also perform Balletto’s premier of “Four Temperaments,” which not only pays homage to George Balanchine by referencing his neoclassical aesthetic, but also keeps the master’s work fresh and relevant by bringing a contemporary twist to his iconic technique and experimenting with sound; Mohovich layers his own voice on top of the Hindemith classic.
Sullivan will then take the stage to perform a new solo work, “Man Overboard,” choreographed by Brigid Baker, director of the 6th Street Dance Studio and Whole Project, a contemporary dance company based in Little Havana. In this piece, which reflects Baker’s unique choreographic amalgamation of traditional ballet, quantum physics, various movement techniques, and spirituality, Sullivan will reflect on his relationship with nature through an exploration of “presence” in this age of rapid transformation.
While Miami/Italia 2011 indeed promises an evening of superbly executed, highly complex, technical dance with a contemporary flair, I am particularly pleased by the collaboration’s nod to Miami’s international culture that extends well beyond the Americas.
Saturday March 19 at 8:00 p.m., Sunday March 20 at 6:00 p.m. at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; ticketmaster.com; Colony box office 305-674-1040; tickets from $20 to $35