When Balanchine stated that two dancers on stage make a story, he opened up new possibilities in storytelling and in ballet choreography. In Vancouver, Miami City Ballet presents three of Balanchine's most succesful stories spanning over forty years — Ballo della Regina (1978), Symphony in Three Movements (1972) and Serenade (1934).    

Miami City Ballet dances in <i>Symphony in Three Movements</i> © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Joe Gato
Miami City Ballet dances in Symphony in Three Movements
© The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Joe Gato
The evening opened with Ballo della Regina, created as a virtuoso ballet for then-principal dancer of New York City Ballet, Merrill Ashley. The pomp of Verdi's score and the choreography set high expectations, that were met with a few challenges in this performance.

This ballet of showmanship exhibited Balanchine's trademark of clean, quick and intricately timed choreography. Amidst ear-to-ear smiles and complex footwork, the dancers, in pastel-coloured leotards and short flowing skirts, granted small pauses in their phrases, allowing the audience to acknowledge their virtuosity. So much were they playing to the audience that at times, connectivity between them was sacrified, when it was most needed. A couple of the variations by the four women in pink leotards, though executed well, were noticeably off tempo — an unfortunate occurrence that recorded music cannot mask. The most brilliant in this performance were Renato Penteado and Nathalia Arja (in Ms. Ashley's role) who proved more than worthy of her promotion to Soloist in 2014. Arja danced with lightness and precision, and still looked like she was having fun. 

Balanchine's choreography filled the stage and spilled into the wings, so much so that the lack of set designs - with only a background screen of faint water-like patterns in turquoise, seemed unimportant.

Symphony in Three Movements was probably as interesting to its first audience as it is today. The curtain rises on to a brightly lit stage split by a diagonal line of sixteen dancers in white leotards. With ponytails swinging, they punch out the dynamic introduction of the first movement. Joined by dancers in pink or black leotards and eight men in white T-shirts and black tights, they confront Stravinsky's multi-faceted score with rolling shoulders, right-angled elbows, flat hands, flexed feet arabesques and other broken lines. Ballet vocabulary and pedestrian movement merged in a segment that sees a dancer's piqués turns travel right through an ensemble of others jogging. At times, the stage was filled with the thirty-two strong ensemble moving through complex, interlocking formations like the gears of a machine. The cannoned segments could have been executed with greater sharpness, but this did not detract from the quality of the overall composition. The contrastingly calm, tender pas de deux of the second movement was executed by Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro with characteristic precision, their facing the audience one behind the other while moving through flexed-handed gestures great allusions to images of Balinese art.

Miami City Ballet in <i>Serenade</i> © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Daniel Azoulay
Miami City Ballet in Serenade
© The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Daniel Azoulay

The grand finale of the evening was Serenade, Balanchine's first ballet created in the United States ( for the School of American Ballet ). With the first notes of Tchaikovsky's score, the curtain opens on an ensemble of female dancers who stood looking to their right, their right arm extended slightly above eye level and their palms facing outwards in the direction of their gaze, from where a light illuminated their long tulle skirts and silvery blue leotards. Soft sweeps of the arms evoke romantic ballets until the ensemble, all together, opened their parallel feet into first position; a moment declaring that the performance would only proceed on their accord. The seventeen women of the ensemble dutifully framed the soloists in each movement, and were also prominent expressions of the ballet's themes. They intertwined gracefully in lovely quintets, and their unison expressed solidarity for their fellow sisters. 

The six male dancers (in muted blue leotards that blended into the background screen) are relegated to prop-like roles. Whether in a pas de trois, as an obedient companion of one woman and bane of another's tragedy, or in the high tempi interludes, the choreography (and their execution of it) was unremarkable, which further favoured the performances of the women. 

Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Jeanette Delgado, and Emily Bromberg, in the principal roles, captivated with drama, grace and strength. Notable was Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg who, in the last scene, retaining the stoicism of tragedy overcome, was escorted upstage right on the shoulders of three men, flanked by dancers of the ensemble in two parallel diagonal lines.  She quietly raised her arms in surrender — they followed arching back,arms in fifth position — to the future that awaited them in the light. 

Miami City Ballet's performance played with the many shades of Balanchine's palette and even offers a number of stunning moments... Balanchine's stories will live on for many years yet.