The Miami City Ballet will perform George Balanchine’s “Square Dance” as part of its upcoming Program I, kicking off the 2011-2012 season. It’s a beautifully symmetric choice: Edward Villella, the founder and director of MCB, was a star protégée of Balanchine. The MCB first performed this quintessentially American dance in 1987, and when they later danced it to great reviews in New York City and most recently in Paris this summer, it has become a signature piece. And now, just last month, Villella announced his retirement. What better performance to take us out of his era.
Principal ballerina Jeanette Delgado, who will be square dancing to the score partially from Antonio Vivaldi when MCB takes the stage at the Arsht Center this weekend, recalls what it was like to debut in France this past summer, with this same dance.
“It was nerve wracking at first,” she says during a break from practice. “There, in the home really of ballet, where the audience knows what it is seeing, we were nervous.” But the audience loved what they saw. “They actually don’t get a lot of Balanchine, so it was little different for them.” What was different for the Miami dancers was that the Parisian audiences save their applause until the very end — no clapping after each dance, no bravos after a particularly difficult arabesque. “At first we thought, ‘what is going on, there’s no clapping!’ But then we realized that it’s not done that way there — and when they saved their applause, it was tremendous.”
Back in Miami, Delgado says that one of the joys of “Square Dance” is that it is a “complete ballet — there’s an opening, a pas de deux, an entire journey.” However, it doesn’t have a narrative or storyline. It’s all about dance and the music, she explains. “It’s an homage to an American tradition, and we as dancers get pulled along with it. Edward [Villella] has us really feel the music, make us understand what it is trying to say” and almost anticipate the next sound and movement, she says. “We hold each other’s hands, do the dosey-doe. It’s a really physically challenging dance, but in that way, in a communal way, we keep each other going.
“Since there is no ‘story,’ all the senses are part of this dance.”
The rest of Program I includes three other, very diverse works. One is Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun,” to a score from Debussy, based on the choreographer’s observation of a ballet dancer obsessed with himself and his own reflection. “Liturgy,” which also traveled to Paris, is an austere pas de deux set to the music of contemporary classical composer Arvo Pärt. And finishing off the opening is a Twyla Tharp signature work, “In the Upper Room.”
Miami City Ballet’s Program I opened the season at the Ziff Ballet Opera House in the Adrienne Arsht Center, and continues at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale; on Oct. 28, 29, and 30; www.miamicityballet.org.
The Miami City Ballet will make its national television debut on PBS on its Great Performances special, which will include Square Dance, airing on WPBT Channel 2, at 9:00 p.m., Oct. 28.
This first appeared in the Miami New Times Cultist.