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Photo: Alexander Izilieav /Miami New Times
Miami City Ballet is one of the few national ballet companies this year putting on a production of The Nutcracker.

Holidays go on, one way or another. On Friday, our church had an online carol sing (secret of success: only one person unmuted at a time), and I was able to see my grandchildren in two different states mouthing the words and dancing. Someone else I know watched her friend’s son perform (virtually) as the Prince in a local Nutcracker. In Miami, another Nutcracker is taking place outdoors.

Gia Kourlas reports at the New York Times, “Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, is facing a new unknown. It’s a fear she’s never had. And it stresses her out.

“ ‘I just hope that at the last minute that they don’t close us down,’ she said. …

“Against the odds during a pandemic, the company will present its reimagined production of ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’ this month. Normally, Ms. Lopez said, her worries would fall more along the lines of, are the costumes going to be ready? …

“Now she is thinking about the backstage choreography of the crew and the dancers, since masks will not be worn during performances. ‘We have to make sure that when you’re exiting, no one is in that wing,’ she said. …

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ ” is more than a beloved holiday staple. For ballet companies across the country it’s a financial lifeline that supports the repertory for the rest of the year. This year, most productions have been relegated to virtual offerings, but Miami has something that some other cities, like New York, don’t: warm weather at holiday time.

“The company’s production of Balanchine’s 1954 classic already pops with an abundance of color and heat. In 2017, it was given a vibrant Miami makeover, with designs and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. …

“Miami City Ballet’s production is, Ms. Lopez noted, a true community effort. ‘Think of a hospital, a government agency, a real estate investment firm and a ballet company somehow coming to the table,’ she said. ‘Never in my wildest dreams would I ever, ever have thought of that.’

“She hadn’t planned for this to happen.

‘This is not because I’m a visionary,’ Ms. Lopez said. ‘It was just opportunities that arose and it came, honestly, from a “What can we do?” ‘ …

“It was Ms. Harrington who, over the summer, suggested to Ms. Lopez that the company should present a ‘Nutcracker.’ … ‘I’m not like the hugest fan of “The Nutcracker” in all the world, but I do know of its healing effects,’ she said. ‘And right now we need a little Christmas, as the song goes.’ …

“The company has teamed up with a health care partner, Baptist Health South Florida, and abides by a stringent testing and safety protocol. Masked audience members will be seated in socially distanced pods that accommodate up to four people each. The intermission has been cut to five minutes — more of a pause — and the idea is to get people in and out efficiently.

“Ms. Lopez credited early actions that the Miami City Ballet organization took when the coronavirus forced a shutdown in March. It quickly formed a Covid task force, which led to engaging an industrial hygienist who examined the studios for safety. …

“Ms. Lopez was able to hold the school’s summer course — an indoor, in-person program for 100 students — for five weeks in July. ‘We were biting our nails because Florida in July was a red-hot state,’ she said. ‘And we didn’t have one single case in those five weeks. We sent the staff home. You couldn’t come into the building if you weren’t part of the school or faculty.

“ ‘And so there was a real sense that we could do this, that we knew how to do it safely in the building. That’s really how it started.”

“When Downtown Doral Park became available, Ms. Harrington refocused her thinking. … ‘I had to look through the ballet and figure out how the storytelling can continue without the numbers of people that you would want in the party scene and the battle scene. … One big change is an Act 2 overture in place of the young children who usually play Angels. For it, she created a journey from the snow scene that ends Act 1 to the beach, ‘because it’s Miami,’ Ms. Harrington said. …

[Ms. Harrington] was always baffled by the abrupt change in setting, from the Act 1 snow scene to Act 2’s tropical Land of the Sweets. ‘It was snowy and now there’s a pineapple onstage,’ she said. … ‘It was within my grasp to fill in the gaps. …

“ ‘I felt like this could be a thrill. I hope I’m right. I believe in theater and art. … I just needed it to happen.”

More here.

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Photo: Thomas Armour Youth Ballet
An unusual ballet company in Miami provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals as needed.

In the fall, my younger granddaughter will start ballet lessons in Rhode Island. “I’m going to be on the stage,” she announced to my neighbor. I’m not sure what, at age 4, ballet classes mean to her, but they have a mighty big aura.

In Miami, an unusual ballet company has been growing an even bigger aura. Thomas Armour Youth Ballet offers dance lessons, yes, but as I learned from this Miami Herald article by Rodolfo Roman, its goals extend well beyond dance.

“When sports journalist Claudia Chang Trejos faced a difficult period in her life, an after-school ballet program helped her overcome obstacles.

“Now, her daughter, Glades Middle School student Sophia Chang Trejos, 14, is following her mother, attending the after-school program at the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet in South Miami.

“The program provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals [and] delivers professionally taught dance classes in multiple genres, at little or no cost to 500 students ages 5-11.

” ‘When she started, I was going through a nasty divorce,’ Claudia said. ‘We were broke. I had no one to help me out with Sophia, so this was a place she could go to, and go with her peers. I went to work and I had a peace of mind.’ …

“ ‘Ballet is not for everybody,’ said Sophia, who credits the program with her getting into the New World School of Arts, the Miami-Dade arts magnet high school, where she will start in the fall.

“ ‘You can start when you are 4 and love it, but when you grow, the technique gets harder and that’s when people quit. What I like about ballet is it’s a different way to train a person. I like the music and the way people are when you are dancing. It is like a movie.’ …

“Director Ruth Wiesen said the program’s goal is to be a vehicle of success.

“ ‘Every now and then, I step back and I am shocked we are able to see these kids succeed and coming back to Miami,’ she said. ‘That is the biggest thrill. They come back, settle down and act like role models.’ …

“No matter what her future holds, Sophia said the program will always have a place in her heart.

“ ‘I plan on coming back when I am older, and teach classes to give back,’ she said.”

More at the Miami Herald, here.

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Photo: Aventura Mall
Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches are among the impressive works of art at Miami’s Aventura Mall.

When Suzanne was a toddler, I loved going to the mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, so she could run around. Even today, I may go to a mall for my walk when the weather is bad. But on the whole, I avoid the typically oppressive atmosphere of malls. This one in Miami would have to be an exception. It’s a real art gallery.

Alexandra Peers writes at Architectural Digest, “About a dozen years ago, [real-estate developer Jackie Soffer] began buying artworks for the 2.8-million square-foot Aventura Mall, one of the largest in America. …

“A few malls have art, a very few have good art, but almost none have the button-pushers and immersive installations that the Aventura Mall features. Artists on view include pioneers or buzzy contemporary players like Louise Bourgeois, Wendell Castle, Lawrence Weiner, Julian Opie, and Daniel Arsham. There’s a 93-foot-long slide by artist Carsten Höller, who had another one in London’s Tate Modern museum.

“At first glance, it all seems highly unlikely, but — much like Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking Bellagio Hotel, which signaled to a certain set that the luxury property in Las Vegas had Picassos — the art immediately and wordlessly brands the shopping center.

” ‘Mall has slightly negative connotations,’ Soffer notes, but in Aventura, given its size, longevity (it opened in 1983 and has expanded repeatedly since), and events program, it means to be ‘a real community center.’ Plus, the art is an audience attraction — and great selfie bait.

“[Soffer] concedes that there’s also a popular and much-photographed ‘Love’ sculpture on New York’s Sixth Avenue, near the Museum of Modern Art. But she brags happily, ‘That’s red and blue. Ours is a red, blue, and green artist’s proof!’

“Not all the mall’s retail-art mash-ups go smoothly, of course. One October, sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, a series of Easter Island–style heads atop a plinth of weathered wood, were installed in a gloomy corridor. A few weeks later, a store tenant asked when the Halloween decorations were being taken down. He found them ‘scary,’ given their tucked-away locale. It was a classic case of bad placement, laughs Soffer, who adds that the works have been moved to a wide-open area and are quite popular now. …

“Perhaps the biggest surprise of having the art collection in the mall, says Soffer, has been the unexpected number of adults, rather than kids, who want to take pictures with the pieces. An outdoor fountain of spouting bronze gorillas and animals by The Haas Brothers is, if anything, even more popular when bad weather forces the mall to turn off the water—because fans can get much closer to the figures.”

See more of the art here.

Photo: Leo Diaz/ Aventura Mall
Carsten Höller’s Aventura Slide Tower.

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Photo: Shelly Davidov/Miami New Times
In Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, street art transformed Jose de Diego Middle School.

It’s interesting to see how street art can be a route to gallery representation for painters, especially if they apply their tagging to public projects.

Ahmed Fakhr writes at Rolling Stone about how painting the walls in a Florida neighborhood helped some artists gain wider recognition.

“Miami is becoming a destination for global collectors looking for a multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculpture or one-off by Gerhard Richter. While some opt for the hallowed white-walled galleries to sip white wine, other local artists continue to gain notoriety when by taking to the streets to paint huge murals on bare walls with cans of spray paint. This graffiti explosion was the creation of the street art scene in Wynwood.

“In 2007, Wynwood was a rundown textile and manufacturing area. Then a cohort of street artists decided to bring attention to their neighborhood, but as a way to establish their own art.

“Slowly the area transformed into a haven for creative people looking for a way to express themselves. Soon enough, a developer purchased the properties and capitalized on the growing art culture in the gentrifying area now known as the Wynwood Arts District. …

“Native Robert de los Rios, founder of the RAW project, has been entrenched in street art scene in Miami for years, so he used this opportunity as a way bring art to underfunded schools in the area. ‘Art budgets for schools in the Wynwood area were slashed to zero,’ Rios says.

“So he decided to approach the area school district and street artists from around the world to paint murals on the indoor and outdoor walls of the school. By doing so, Rios hoped this would jumpstart the issue of funding art in schools again and to inspire kids’ creativity. ‘They felt like they were coming to a prison before,’ he says. ‘But now they come to school excited and happy.’ …

“While Rios prides himself in being able to bring an international graffiti scene together to transform the aesthetic of the school, he also collaborated with multiple Miami artists – Ahol Sniffs Glue, Typoe, Santiago Rubino and FL.Mingo – to bring challenging concepts to the school’s campus.

“Typoe, one third of an art collective known as Primary Flight, along with Cristina Gonzalez and Books Bischof, started in Wynwood when Art Basel launched in 2007. Having no luck at the fair, the trio decided street art was more lucrative. … Now they have a gallery space in the Design District.”

Read about more of the artists at Rolling Stone, here, including the one who prefers to stick to illegal tagging of trains and remain anonymous.

I’d be very curious to know how all this has affected the students at the middle school. Perhaps some are aiming to become artists now or are just feeling more special.

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You don’t have to love everything that someone calls a poem to believe that it’s a great thing to encourage poetic expression and enjoyment of poetry in all walks of life.

One of the memorable aspects of Jason Elliot’s book on Iran, Mirrors of the Unseen, at least for me, was how many ordinary people in that country were interested in the great poets of their culture and could recite ancient verse.

Meanwhile, in Miami, there’s a poetry festival that aims to touch everyone.

William Grimes at the NY Times says, “If you live in Miami and you do not read, recite or listen to a poem in April, something has gone seriously wrong. For the third year, the O, Miami Poetry Festival will flood the city with words, using any pretext to accomplish its mission of putting all 2.6 million residents of Miami-Dade County in contact with at least one poem. …

“Poems will be pasted on the mirrors of public bathrooms and positioned at congested intersections, so drivers stuck in traffic jams can get some uplift while their engines idle. …

“One of last year’s most popular events, run with WLRN, the local public radio station, was a poetry contest in which citizen-poets were asked to contribute lines dedicated to the theme: ‘That’s so Miami.’ The winner in the ‘best ode to Miami Spanglish’ category was Lauren Fernandez: ‘Exciting and Extravagant/Guajiros in Bentleys./Tostones and Champagne. That’s so Miami.’

“This year contestants must pick a location between the Palm Beaches and the Keys and enshrine it in verse, incorporating the words “this is where.” Winners will see their work published in The Miami Herald. …

“Ivan Lopez, an actor, will dress as the poet and revolutionary José Martí, mount a white horse and ride down Calle Ocho handing out roses with poems attached. That’s so Miami.”

More  at the Times.

Photo: Ting-Li Wang/NY Times
Reading poetry. Can you identify the poet? Hint: He’s not so Miami.

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