Miami City Ballet added a striking new facet to its profile with the startling, off-kilter architecture of Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia on its season-opening program. But it was Serenade, the nearly 80-year-old Balanchine work that has been a company mainstay, that got the strongest applause Friday night at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House.
Polyphonia, which made Wheeldon the bright hope of classical dance when he choreographed it for New York City Ballet in 2001, is not enormously radical or new for the dance world. But it is both for MCB, and it is a marker of artistic director Lourdes Lopez’ vision for the company in the first season she has programmed.
Polyphonia’s eight performers dance to a series of short, edgy piano pieces by Gyorgy Ligeti (authoritatively played by Francisco Renno) that define its compelling mix of sharp rhythm and moody atmosphere. Nathalia Arja, Tricia Albertson, Jennifer Kronenberg, Sara Esty, Renan Cerdeiro, Reyneris Reyes, Renato Penteado and Kleber Rebello danced with a fierce intensity, carving out Polyphonia’s strange geometry and deepening its often dark moods.
The men frequently set the women wheeling into circles, high or wide swinging legs, startling horizontal or upside-down lifts that forsake ballet’s usual harmonious curves for sharp angles. Penteado set Kronenberg tilting slowly around him, then backed out to leave her in a slow, spiraling solo, her long arms seeming to sweep up the space all around her. (Returning to the stage after a maternity leave, Kronenberg displayed a spellbinding new serenity and gravitas.)
Esty and Rebello crackled in a dynamic, feisty duet. Reyes and Albertson unfolded from a tight crouch into a riveting duo, Reyes lifting Albertson – who had a new passion and dimension in her dancing – into a gyroscopic, circling, scooping, body-angling, seamless sequence of lifts before they folded slowly back into the floor together.
In the opening ballet, Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina, the young, talented, gazelle-legged Arja was spirited but insufficiently authoritative in the virtuoso central role. Bright and light, she accomplished the prancing hops on pointe and spitting turns into arabesque, but she lacked the decisive attack and sense of rhythm and shape that can make this role so electrifying.
The corps de ballet sparkled in the playful, intricately weaving patterns behind her, but it was Arja’s partner, Cerdeiro, flying through wide-legged leaps, who was the most electrifying presence in a ballet named for a queen.
Serenade may be familiar, but it remains glowingly resonant, full of mystery and romance that emerge from its simple, deeply musical choreography and enigmatic images. Kronenberg was luminous as the central ballerina who sweeps in and out of the long-skirted corps, which danced with a vivid lyricism (although her partner, husband Carlos Guerra, looked rather uncomfortably out of shape).
Compact, dynamic soloist Esty was warm and vivid, and Emily Bromberg’s intense, elegant dancing also stood out. Gary Sheldon led the orchestra in a bright rendition of Tchaikovsky’s lush, lovely Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra. The ending, with Kronenberg carried high and arching into a darkening stage, as if into some dancer’s heaven, was heartbreaking and resplendent.