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Miami City Ballet - 'The Neighborhood Ballroom'

Four Ages of Man (and Epilogue) Enough for Villella

by Carol Herron

April 24, 2004 - Center for the Arts, George Mason University , Washington, D.C.

What a delightful evening this ballet provided. When I read the blurb about this ballet many months ago when I ordered my subscription I had thought that this would be a plotless dance. However "The Neighborhood Ballroom" is a narrative ballet in four acts and an epilogue. The story focuses on a poet who "strives to master the complexities of the human Dance of Life" (program notes). The four Acts represent different stages of the man's life, and are represented by a specific style of dance. The epilogue is a kind of review of his life and how he handled the challenges. The ballet is set in a neighborhood ballroom in New York and is set to popular music contemporary to each style of dancing.

Edward Villella, the founding Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer for MCB, was a young dancer in New York in the '50's and learned to admire the great ballroom dancers of the time. He wanted to present a ballet that honored these talented dancers and which also appeals to a broader audience than just classical and neoclassical ballet fans.

The Poet was danced by Jann Trividic, a tall, imposing dancer. Although Trividic danced well he showed only momentary flashes of charisma and brilliance.  Not really enough to make me care much about him as a character. The first act was "The Waltz: Our Lady of Oblivion." Here, The Poet is 17 years old and is a somewhat gauche youth, who while tempted by Lily the Belle Epoque Widow, is still entranced by his Muse. Callie Manning was lovely as Lily both in this role and later parts in the subsequent acts. She is not a Principal dancer, but she shows lovely form, a lively presence and good acting abilities. This first act is danced to music composed and played by the Company Pianist Francisco Renno. While very enjoyable, the music and the dancing seem somewhat subdued. The costumes, designed by Haydee Morales, are absolutely gorgeous for the women in all the acts of the ballet. The set, too, is well designed by Arnold Abramson.

The second act "The Quick-Step: Unspeakable Jazz Must Go" shows the poet in his 20s, here he is much more interested in Kiki, a Jazz Age Flapper, than his Muse. Kiki was very well danced by Mary Carmen Catoya. Other standouts for this act were Kiki's Suitor, danced by Luis Serrano, and the Two Young Women, danced by Marc Spielberger and Evan Unks. Luis Serrano is the type of dancer that catches your eye and holds it. While the Two Young Women were absolutely hysterical, they reminded me of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the Billy Wilder movie, "Some Like It Hot". Even when others were dancing, and they were just standing or drinking in the background, they kept up the amusing caricature.

By the third act, "The Fox Trot: Dancing In The Dark," The Poet, now in his 40's, is a suave gentleman, with no time for his Muse. His lady love is Ava, a Leading Hollywood Screen Star, danced beautifully by Jennifer Kronenberg. She was every bit the 'leading lady'. The Gals from Joe's: Jennifer Brie, Allynne Noelle, Andrea Spiridonakos and Callie Manning did a great job of conveying the period. The standout for this act was Mikhail Ilyin as the Pilot's Bestfriend.  Dancing to St. Louis Blues March he demonstrated wonderful jumps and a real stage presence. The Three Smokers: Luis Serrano, Renato Penteado and Jeremy Cox, vied for attention in "Back Bay Shuffle".

Each act of the ballet just got more and more exciting, and the fourth act "The Mambo: Mambo No. 2a.m." was a fabulous finale. By this stage of his life, The Poet is in his 60's and has to bribe Rosalita, the Star of a Latin Nightclub Show, with diamonds to get her to pay attention to him. The Muse is only fleetingly glimpsed. Iliana Lopez danced the role of Rosalita with passion and flair. Although the music was mostly recorded, Ivan Navas brilliantly played the Congas on the stage. All the dances were lively and well danced, but again the standout was Luis Serrano when he danced Almendra with Tricia Albertson.

The Epilogue: "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)", was danced to the song by Frank Sinatra. The Poet, in his 60's dances with all the women, including his elusive Muse, from the various stages of his life. A rather poignant ending, to an absolutely delightful evening of dance.

Edited by Jeff.

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