Miami City Ballet Swan Lake Review
February 11, 2022 | Adrienne Arsht Center – Miami, FL, USA
On Friday, February 11 at 7:30 p.m., Miami City Ballet’s six years of driving effort led to the North American premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s historically restored full-length version of Swan Lake.
Nearly 2,400 dedicated fans of the company and the story ballet really had to work hard to get there. A massive, ongoing construction project engulfs the hosting Adrienne Arsht Ziff Ballet Opera House, making the already archaic Miami traffic still more of a scandal. The eager shouldered on in waves, a steady surge of patrons finding their way to the building’s massive glass front.
Once there, attendees were treated to easy entry, thanks to the well-orchestrated Covid-19 protocols in place. Checks for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test were smooth and pleasant, and attendees were uniformly compliant in wearing masks throughout the evening.
Much national media coverage preceded opening night, often supported by the copious series of behind-the-scenes interviews created by the company and shared on their home page and through social media. Such pre-performance press created a different space of anticipation for the avid followers, as we could meet Ratmansky before the performance in these videos and hear him and his dancers talk about what they were working towards and why.
After watching last night’s first run performance, one thing is certain: Miami has her own Swan Lake.
Act I, Scene I was awash in bright sets, dominated by pastel colors to showcase the individual dancers. Set and costume design reflect the diversity and depth of Parisien Jerome Kaplan’s talents and eye for detail. He has worked with companies from Beijing to Saint Petersburg to Milan and now Miami, including a past collaboration with Ratmansky for the Dutch National Ballet’s Don Quixote.
Mark Stanley’s roles over Scenic Supervision and Lighting Design were impactful and immediate. Establishing mood is essential if we are to believe the narrative, and the lighting and scenic scope were appropriate and substantial. Both created a supple platform for the celebrated pas de trois.
Following Act I, a five-minute pause allowed for set change before the traditional Act II, segmented by MCB as Act I, Scene II for their production.
Without explication, Katia Carranza replaced previously billed Natalia Arja as The Queen of the Swans for tonight’s performance. This reviewer was anticipating seeing long-time partners Arja and Renan Cerdeiro perform together.
However, Carranza’s White Swan, both ethereal and vulnerable, was enhanced by her épaulement, an elegant nod to the signature Russian style. Carranza’s lead in this important style was echoed in the corps de ballet’s port de bras. One can only imagine how time and additional performance will develop the swan maidens, as simplicity and ease with the style have room for growth.
The restoration of Benno’s role was refreshing and accented by the inspired Kaplan costuming. The 19th century Russian-style tutus of the Queen and her swan maidens were ethereal, of course, but the symbolic messages of color choice in the male costumes are important as well.
There was no on-the-nose black opposition to the Prince’s dazzling white-and-silver wear for Benno’s costume. Instead, Kaplan clad tonight’s capable Benno, Damian Zamorano, in a deep, subtle navy, contrasted with gold trim. This costuming choice made an amiable visual distinction between the two friends, a distinction that became so important in Act II, while also reserving shades of black for our villain, Von Rothbart, tonight danced by a dastardly Cameron Catazaro.
The traditionally sumptuous ballroom scene (Act III) is now Act II in the MCB production and began after a 20-minute intermission.
Act II was the showcase the company deserved to display their diversity and breadth of talent through the national dances: Spanish, Neopolitan, Hungarian, Polish. All were lively, colorful, clear representations of each culture, showing a true verve for character roles and the company’s ability to shape shift. Amid the ensemble, Satoki Habuchi captured individual attention during the Neopolitan passage, connecting muscular prowess and authentic facial projection. Bravo.
Unfortunately, in the Black Swan pas de deux, intended as the crown jewel of the act, the weight of the technical challenge was noticeable. As Odile, Carranza struggled with pirouettes, both supported and unsupported. Despite Cerdeiro’s consistently clean, steady partnering, the pas de deux lacked virtuosity. Anticipation turned to tension during the 32 fouettés, a moment when orchestra and dancer seemed a bit at odds with each other. An undisciplined crowd’s sporadic applause made the already awkward moments worse.
As is MCB’s new protocol, no paper programs were provided, and the virtual program did not provide notes as to why the music for the male variation in the Black Swan pas de deux was substituted. Missing also was the larger choreography that goes along with the passage.
And while live orchestra always adds warmth and depth to any performance, repeated moments of unbalanced dynamics between the brass and the percussion were distracting and unexpected from such a nuanced score.
After the final twenty-minute intermission, the cathartic finale, MCB’s Act III, brought our White Swan, Odette, back to her stronger of the two roles.
By this point in the narrative, the sometimes over-accentuated pantomime had communicated the story, even to the uninitiated. In this Act, we all know of the deception, and the swans are in mourning for their Queen. Her fate is sealed, and we felt that tragic reality when, accompanied by two of her swan maidens, Carranza shared grace and pathos with the épaulement of incarceration.
Here, the corps de ballet set their watermark for the evening as well. Odette’s sacrifice frees the swan maidens of Von Rothbart’s curse. As in all great legend, the apotheosis restores the natural order. Thunderous applause began long before the curtain fell, applause that did not dim until long after Carranza graciously accepted her roses.
Audience goers spoke excitedly for some time after the performance, as leaving the venue was arduous, and valet parking was taxed beyond imagination.
Still, the house staff met the challenge.
One staff member in particular, Emergency Medical Technician and Usher, Tyler, was an island of calm in a sea of chaos for patrons needing assistance with seating. Tyler paid attention, both to nuances of a live ballet performance and to individual needs. The traffic conundrum had many patrons arriving late; Tyler calmly explained when and where they would be seated without interrupting the integrity of the performance. Talented ushers are important. Tyler is the standard for what an usher can bring to a performance.
While the past six years must have been an unimaginable challenge for this company, tonight we saw once again how energy and tenacity and the willingness to attack, attack, attack can bring the unimaginable to a tangible, repeatable reality. Miami City Ballet has done what so many companies dream of doing – they own their own Swan Lake. Lourdes Lopez, your bird has landed.
Featured Photo for this Miami City Ballet Swan Lake review of Katia Carranza and Renan Cerdeiro in Alexei Ratmansky’s Swan Lake. Photo by Alexander Izilaev.
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