Leave it to Edward Villella -- star dancer of the 1960s, '70s and again earlier this year -- to opt for the great male roles at their fullest. He could have, but didn't, let his Miami City Ballet perform George Balanchine's last edition of "Apollo," the one without the birth scene, or the first, "country vernacular," version of that choreographer's "Square Dance" with kerchiefs and a caller on stage but lacking the long, complex, moody solo for the principal man. There are things to be said in favor of the short forms of both works but it's the long ones that showcase the men.
Thursday night at Wolf Trap, Franklin Gamero was the Apollo and David Palmer the square dancer of the deeper dimension; in a third starring man's part, Paulo Manso de Sousa showed his mettle in the "Tarantella," also by Balanchine. As Palmer's partner and Gamero's favored muse, Iliana Lopez was the program's leading lady. The Miamians can't seem to do without her technical versatility.
There's no abstraction in Gamero's mimed conception of Apollo. Born, he bawls. Taking his first steps, he stumbles. Left alone on stage by his mother and her handmaidens, he looks around for company and picks up his lute, not to play for the pleasure of it but as a summons. Instants later, the three muses (Elizabeth Dretzin, Maribel Modrono and Lopez) appear. When he turns away from the first, Calliope, his features express utter disdain of what she has inscribed on her tablet. His anger at Polyhymnia and the words that burst from her lips is on a Jovian scale, whereas the pleasure he takes in the last to dance before him, Terpsichore, is almost Dionysian. So much detail, though, doesn't interfere with the grandeur of the role or the secrets Balanchine and his composer, Stravinsky, reveal about the creative process. Rather, this realism guards against sentimentalizing the young god and stylizing the dancing into a calcified classicism. Gamero doesn't move gorgeously enough to be tempted to do that, nor does he need to, because he has the vigor to show all the steps plus a sense for building phrases.
The constant shifting of direction in the slow, long, great male solo of "Square Dance" isn't abrupt. The body changes course not all at once but in segments that are sometimes opposed and sometimes sequential. Palmer's performance was pliant, yet wonderfully formal so that the courtliness he shows Lopez and the brisk joyousness of his dancing in the ballet's other sections aren't contradicted, but supplemented. This solo, in the bosom of music not by a Kentucky fiddler but Vivaldi and Corelli, has the effect of a soliloquy by a man who lives well by the rules yet also loves his freedom to think.
Manso de Sousa's speed in "Tarantella" and his short-stop phrasing were reminiscent of Villella, who originated this duet with Patricia McBride at New York City Ballet. However, Manso was a bit earthbound. Marcia Sussman has a knack for cutting the curves and angles of McBride's part, but wasn't yet comfortable in such high gear.
A ballet not by Balanchine, Jimmy Gamonet De Los Heros's "Bach in Three Movements," opened the program. Nevertheless, one was forced to think of Mr. B. The first section, for 10 women led by Dominique Angel (who trained at the school of the Virginia Ballet) and Natalie Hauser, could be called a tribute to Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco" if one were in a generous mood. Section 2, in which four men lift Eve Lawson and support her balances, has an un-baroque, un-Balanchine, somewhat slinky suppleness. In the finale, the dancers of the first two parts join forces and try to merge styles. With so much true Balanchine in lively performances, why does the Miami company need referential or reverential works?