‘It was heaven’ — beloved star dancer leaves Miami City Ballet

Patricia Delgado (arabesque) performing George Balanchine’s “Serenade” with Deanna Seay and Didier Bramaz at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 2008.
Patricia Delgado (arabesque) performing George Balanchine’s “Serenade” with Deanna Seay and Didier Bramaz at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in 2008. Jared Lazarus/Miami Herald staff

When Patricia Delgado joined Miami City Ballet, what thrilled the then-18-year-old ballerina most wasn’t performing in big theaters or being part of a famous company, but getting to dance all the time.

“I remember being so excited to wake up and the first thing I did was take a ballet class,” says Delgado, now 34. “It was heaven.”

That sense of joy has helped make Delgado, who started at MCB’s school at just 12 years old, one of the most engaging and beloved members of Miami City Ballet, an emblem of the troupe. But now the Kendall-raised, Cuban-American lead dancer is leaving the company where she grew up. Repeated injuries — and a longing to finally join her boyfriend of several years, New York City Ballet resident choreographer and dancer Justin Peck — mean that Delgado is retiring from the company. She gives her final performances with MCB April 1 to 2 at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center and the following weekend in Fort Lauderdale, in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” and “Divertimento No. 15,” with a company tribute on April 9.

“It was a really hard decision to make,” Delgado said by phone recently, choking back tears. “I love this company, and I love dancing here in South Florida so, so much.

“I think the universe was sending me that one last challenge to finally take the jump and move, for your love and your heart. ... I hope it’s a step in a new direction.”

Delgado’s absence will be amplified by that of her younger sister Jeanette Delgado, also an acclaimed principal dancer who has grown up with the company. She is taking a leave of absence next season to live with her soon-to-be husband in Spain, where he is getting a master’s degree. A company spokeswoman said Jeanette will remain on the roster and is slated to return for the 2018-2019 season.

The Delgado sisters are not only much admired artists, but hometown favorites who have been the soul of the Miami troupe.

“The bond we have shared has grown into the most special connection I will ever know,” Jeanette said in an email. Still, her temporary departure helped ease Patricia’s decision.

“Whether I left first or she left first it would be really hard for whoever is left behind,” Patricia says. “It’s an adventure we’re both going on.”

The daughters of a psychologist and a school teacher, the sisters started at the Vivian Tobio Ballet School, then switched to MCB’s school on Lincoln Road in 1995. Patricia had no idea that the company was becoming nationally acclaimed, or that founding artistic director Edward Villella was a legendary former star at NYCB. But crowded next to the grown-ups in the narrow halls of the ramshackle studios, she was captivated.

“I remember watching the company rehearse and thinking, ‘They do this for a living, and all they do is come in all day and dance? I want to do that!’ 

Villella soon spotted Delgado’s talent, inviting her to join the company on a tour to the storied Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York in 1998, when she was 15. In a diary from that summer, she wrote that she was so awestruck by company dancer Jennifer Kronenberg that she sometimes forgot to move. She spent the 2000-01 school year racing between her final year at Coral Reef Senior High and apprenticing with MCB. Instead of going to prom, she danced the lead in Balanchine’s “Raymonda Variations” in MCB’s graduation show. In her first year with the company, she danced every ballet at every performance and was shocked at how hard her dream job was.

“I told my mom — I was still living at home — my body hurts, my feet hurt,” Delgado says. “It was like when they throw you into the deep end to teach you how to swim.”

But she quickly rose to the surface. At 21, she was cast as the sensual, abandoned woman at the center of Paul Taylor’s darkly sexy tango piece “Piazzolla Caldera.” Francie Huber, the Taylor dancer teaching the piece, told Delgado she wasn’t mature enough for the part, but that she had the potential to overcome that.

“It was the first time someone had given me that challenge,” Delgado says. “So it lit a fire under my butt. So many times life throws things at you to enhance your artistry. I had to dig into my imagination. ... It was very satisfying to have to dig more emotionally than physically.”

That thoughtfulness served her well as she rose through the company, becoming a soloist in 2005 and a principal dancer in 2007. Her elegance, warmth and depth illuminated leading roles in everything from emotionally nuanced Jerome Robbins ballets like “Afternoon of a Faun” to sparkling neo-classic Balanchine masterpieces such as “Symphony in C,” and enigmatic modernist works like “Duo Concertant,” to Twyla Tharp’s driving “In the Upper Room.”

“Patricia is among that rare breed of artist who captivates in everything,” MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez said in an email. “She brings to every role an inner radiance, refinement and musicality that is all her own.”

When Peck came to MCB four years ago, first to choreograph the pas de deux “Chutes and Ladders” and then to create the exhilarating “Heatscape,” which had a wildly successful premiere in 2015, Delgado was inspired personally and artistically. She showed new fire in a central role in “Heatscape. She and Peck were happily in love.

“He’s been a very influential, inspiring person in my life,” Delgado says. “We were living this dreamlike, romantic, who-could-ask-for-anything-more Miami New York love ... . It was very new and fresh.”

But injuries were taking an increasing toll. She did not dance at all last season, coming back only for the company’s debut at Lincoln Center last spring, despite a painful hip injury.

“It was one of the highs of my career,” she says. “At the same time it was so painful. It made me ask myself, how much are you willing to push yourself for this art form?”

Still, she was determined to return — until a problem with her right foot sidelined her again this season. These final shows are her first since New York last year.

And so she has decided to make the leap to a new life. While she still hopes to perform — she will dance in a program of female choreographers at the Vail Dance Festival in Colorado this summer — she is beginning to think of nurturing others (she has been coaching younger dancers at MCB), and of her own place, and her sister’s place, in the lineage of Miami City Ballet and in dance.

“Edward and Lourdes both embraced our individuality and supported us,” Delgado says. “Every single dancer in this company has a big part of us in them, the same way I have Jennifer [Kronenberg] and Iliana [Lopez] and Sally [Ann Isaacks] and Deanna [Seay] in me. That’s the beauty of the art form. We take from others what inspires us and put it onstage and in the studio. I’ll always remain in the company.”

If you go

What: Patricia Delgado's final performances with Miami City Ballet

When: 8 p.m. April 1 "Who Cares?" and 2 p.m. April 2 "Divertimento No. 15"

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

When: 8 p.m. April 8 - "Divertimento" and 2 p.m. April 9 "Who Cares?" with tribute

Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale

Info: $20 to $ 189, miamicityballet.org or 305-929-7010