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Good news for dance fans: a Miami City Ballet special is announced for PBS

August 31, 2010 |  1:42 pm

Western Symphony - 14
Miami City Ballet will get a national showcase when PBS airs a "Dance in America" program this spring of the company performing two works by George Balanchine and one by Twyla Tharp.

There was a time when "Dance in America" was a dance maven’s “must-see TV.” In its heyday, from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, the series often broadcast four programs annually featuring the likes of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the companies of Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris and others, all in sensitively directed studio versions of their most compelling repertory.

George Balanchine and Graham would take an active role in their troupes’ programs, consulting on camera angles and even subtly adjusting their choreography for the cameras. A generation of future dancers living in areas far from cultural centers often discovered the possibilities of professional dance through these television programs.

While competitive, glitzy dancing has proliferated on commercial television, the venerable public series — produced by New York’s WNET as part of PBS’ "Great Performances" — has become a much less frequent presence. Economic realities — in particular the high cost of such programming and the withdrawal of major funding sources — have contributed to this decline.

Now, for the first time in years, PBS is taking the plunge and presenting the type of program that made "Dance in America's" sterling reputation.

Miami Next month, Miami City Ballet will be taped in studio performances of Balanchine’s “Square Dance” and “Western Symphony,” along with Tharp’s “The Golden Section.” All three are works for which the company — marking its 25th anniversary this season — has received particular acclaim. Balanchine works have been the troupe’s mainstay, and the company has cultivated a healthy Tharp repertory in recent years, commissioning an original work from her in 2008.

“Miami City Ballet is a company that has never been featured on 'Dance in America,' and they have become really good,” says Bill O’Donnell, series producer for "Great Performances." “When they performed at City Center in New York [in January 2009], they were sensational. They really seem like their time has come. We just wanted to take advantage of it.”

Matthew Diamond, director of "Dancemaker," an Oscar-nominated 1998 documentary on Paul Taylor, and several Dance in America and other Great Performances projects, will direct the 10-day mid-September shoot. O’Donnell says the program, set to air this spring, “will try to do something a little more cinematic than just a traditional proscenium recording.”

He notes that “We are fronting the lion’s share of this budget ourselves. We are not able to find commercial partners for this type of project, and from the European side, co-production is difficult, because there is so much dance programming already available over there — and frankly, they are not as interested in American companies. So we’re sticking our neck out — and it’s expensive.”

— Susan Reiter


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Photo, top: Miami City Ballet dancers in Twyla Tharp's “The Golden Section.” Credit: Alexandre Dufaur.
Photo, bottom: Miami City Ballet dancers in George Balanchine's "Western Symphony." Credit: Joe Gato.