The pas de deux Justin Peck created for Miami City Ballet was just one element of the New World Symphony’s “New Work” evening, but Chutes and Ladders, vibrantly performed by Jeanette Delgado and Kleber Rebello, made a vivid impression even amid the rich array at New World Center Saturday.
Lit up by spontaneous energy derived from the music, the first movement from Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, this densely constructed dance was a strikingly fresh take on a traditional form.
Peck, 25, a soloist and choreographer-in-residence at New York City Ballet, said he was responding to the unpredictable, episodic quality of Britten’s music, which he compared to the way thoughts flit through our minds. But because it is a man and woman dancing in quick-changing response to each other, Chutes also seems to show a narrative of their relationship. In their urgently alive performance, Delgado and Rebello made it seem a genuine physical expression of their own impulses and emotions.
Part of the here-and-now sense of Chutes also came from Peck’s response to the in-the-round nature of the center’s concert hall. Ballet is almost always presented on a proscenium stage, the dancers facing front and moving to unseen musicians. But Peck sets Delgado and Rebello into a rotating gyroscope of a dance at the center of the audience.
The musicians – violinists Vivek Jayaraman and Alexander Chaleff, violist Anthony Parce and cellist Aaron Ludwig – were on a slightly raised platform, a visible part of the action whether the dancers stopped to focus on them or whirled in response to them. The connection between dancers and musicians was taut and alive. In a way, it was like watching a superbly accomplished couple dancing to a band at the center of a club dance floor.
Peck’s movement is by turns urgent and lyrical, formal and odd. Delgado and Kleber whirl in tandem, now with spiraling limbs, now in sharply explosive jumps. They do oddly sharp, mechanical movements that pop out like sudden flashes of thought, as when they look quickly from side to side, as if something caught their eye. But a moment where they stand staring at each other, as if caught in each other’s gaze, seems just as spontaneous.
There is humor too – Kleber leans on Delgado’s shoulder, carries her tilting sideways, legs beating. At the end she moves away from him, and the look on her face is suddenly anguished – but he brings her back to him and the quartet, all of them united by the music.