Villella’s Heroic Homecoming: Miami Burnishes Balanchine

Of all the Balanchine diaspora companies—that is, those headed by his artistic progeny or their offspring—the one most closely watched

Of all the Balanchine diaspora companies—that is, those headed by his artistic progeny or their offspring—the one most closely watched is the Miami City Ballet, whose artistic director is Edward Villella, the world’s original just-one-of-the-guys ballet dancer. Imagine the buoyant hoofing of Gene Kelly crossed with the macho wisecracking of the Rat Pack, throw in a pair of tights, a grin to die for, and a nonchalant elegance and natural courtesy that made all hearts melt, and you’ve got some idea of the charm of his explosive virtuosity.

Yes, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, the Boston Ballet and Miami City Ballet are all cousins, but only Miami is made in Villella’s image. Its virtues are his virtues, and what virtues they are! The company finally made it to New York last week, after visits to various nearby outposts, and what was not to love? There, on the stage of City Center, the theater in which he grew up and where he danced, was the kid from Bayside, Queens, with his own ballet company. It was a homecoming and a lovefest.

The programming was from heaven—perfectly assorted, logically progressed, thematically diverse, so that from ballet to ballet one met the dancers, got to know them better, and then gloried in the acquaintance, with upbeat, all-hands-onstage finales that sent one out of the theater exhilarated.

One program was all-Balanchine: Square Dance (1957), which is set to Vivaldi and Corelli; “Rubies” (1967), to Stravinsky; and Symphony in C (1948), known to balletomanes as “Bizet,” whose symphony is its perfect container.

The other program—the knock-your-socks-off one—led off with the galvanic Symphony in Three Movements (1972), set to Stravinsky’s score of the same name. Next came Mr. B’s La Valse (1951), to Ravel’s doomy, perfumey, utterly French score. The company’s command of the Parisian idiom—très Dior—came as no surprise to anyone who saw their gleaming, dreamy “Emeralds” in Newark several years ago. How right this work looks on the stage for which it was created. The intimacy, the synchrony, the seduction. Quel intoxication!

Finally, the Miami City Ballet took on Twyla Tharp’s epic, idiosyncratic and Edenic In the Upper Room (1992), in which sneakers meet pointe shoes and do battle—which in Tharpdom means that they mate, leaving everyone, onstage, in the house, in the wings, spent but gratified. And all to Philip Glass’ fabulous, heart-grabbing (in the medical sense) score.


HOW FRESH THESE Balanchine ballets are here; how finely detailed, with bits seemingly new, so lost have they been; and correspondences formerly invisible now clear. No smell of mothballs, no sense that the costumes have barely had the dust shaken out of them. No ballets-in-aspic! So lovingly, presently coached, both the steps and the style. To know that these works exist in the world like this—that one might go see them, and live in them again—is to live in hope, and in grace. That is what art is about, not after all, but first of all.

Villella’s Heroic Homecoming: Miami Burnishes Balanchine