Jordan Levin

Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony collaborate on performer-led program

The dancers of Miami City Ballet and the musicians of New World Symphony have spent most of their careers doing what they’re told by teachers, choreographers, conductors and directors. But Tuesday evening, members of both ensembles will present a show of original choreography to live music they’ve created and put together entirely on their own, a collaboration that’s unprecedented for both.

“It’s been very stressful but super refreshing … it’s really been an awesome experience,” says Jeremy Morrow, a NWS bass trombonist who has organized more than 40 NWS Fellows to play for more than 25 MCB dancers in a show that’s part of the symphony’s Behind the Music series. “We never expected this, but it’s one of New World’s biggest productions this season.”

The idea for the collaboration arose last spring, after New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer Justin Peck created a duet for MCB for a show at the symphony. Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez and NWS director of community engagement Robert Smith, a former dancer, arranged for some of the musicians to watch the dance troupe’s daily technique class. But the performers took it from there.

MCB dancer Michael Sean Breeden, an organizer on the ballet side, said that watching the Peck piece unfold, as well as two previous seasons when choreographers Liam Scarlett and Alexei Ratmansky had also choreographed new ballets for the company. This left the dancers hungry to create and perform something new.

“This season we didn’t have a new piece commissioned … so people were eager to have a taste of that again,” says Breeden.

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A small group of dancers and musicians met at an Italian restaurant in Miami Beach and continued in casual get-togethers to show each other music and dance they loved. Gradually they brought in other members of their respective companies. “It was like new friends getting to know each other, which made the collaborative process easy and a lot of fun,” Morrow says.

The program includes a contemporary John Adams composition, choreographed by Sara Esty; a dance created by her sister Leigh-Ann Esty to music from the first Star Wars movie; another by the dynamic young Brazilian dancer Renan Cerdeiro to George Gershwin preludes; dances by Ariel Rose, to a Bach concerto for harpsichord and strings; and by Eric Trope to a Brahms cello and piano sonata. Zoe Zien filmed her piece to Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; the film will be shown while the musicians play live.

The most ambitious work is Adriana Pierce’s dance to Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23, for 30 musicians. NWS’s video, sound and lighting technicians are producing the event.

Morrow, whose girlfriend is a modern dancer, says he has long wanted to bring dancers and musicians closer than the traditional arrangement of musicians in the orchestra pit and dancers on stage. “I’ve always wondered why there’s such a divide between live music and dance,” he says. “It seems like it’s only there because it has been there. Musicians feel movement when they play, and dancers feel music. Every dancer I’ve ever spoken to … wants that connection.”

MCB dancers have periodically staged “Our Show” performances at the troupe’s studio theater, with a mix of their own and others dances, while NWS fellows create the Behind the Music programs. But this first collaboration is the most ambitious either group has attempted, squeezing rehearsals into their already packed schedule of rehearsals and performances.

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“It’s very much a labor of love for us,” says Breeden. “You can’t put a price on the artistic benefit.”

Morrow says watching dance and music come together has been a revelation. “I was amazed at how what I heard in the music was absolutely what was created in the choreography,” he says. “The parallels are just huge.”

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