Jordan Levin

Miami City Ballet’s new Heatscape thrills in debut

Miami City Ballet dancers in "Heatscape." Choreography by Justin Peck
Miami City Ballet dancers in "Heatscape." Choreography by Justin Peck

Miami City Ballet’s biggest premiere of the season, Heatscape, which opened Friday in West Palm Beach, proved to be a vital, exhilarating delight. Justin Peck’s witty, whirling choreography and celebrated street artist Shepard Fairey’s gorgeously decorative backdrop combined to create a richly satisfying experience on many levels: kinetic, musical, visual and emotional.

There was an audible "ooohhh" from the audience at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts when the curtain lifted on Fairey’s set, which fills the back wall. The upper portion is a giant mandala in a sunburst of deep red and gold rays, while a bird image centers a band of four smaller (though still taller than a person) mandalas across the bottom, changing from bright gold to deep blue with Brandon Stirling Baker’s lighting. But instead of overwhelming the dance, the graphic, intricate patterns create a jewel-like setting, a sense of grandeur and intensity. (Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costumes, simple white tunics for the women, white tops and tan shorts for the men, helped the dancers stand out against all that visual busyness.)

Heatscape ripples with energy – with intricately furling and unfurling patterns, and sudden bursts of movement for the 17 dancers, that make the stage space seem to expand and contract in sometimes startling ways. Bohuslav Martinu’s bright and breakneck Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra hurtles through a rich variety of melodies and moods, given a terrifically energetic, sharply modulated performance by the Opus One Orchestra under conductor Gary Sheldon.

Peck is a musically sensitive choreographer, and he follows his score closely. But although Heatscape is abstract, it’s rife with dramatic implications radiating from the movement. It opens with the dancers lined up against the back wall, their backs to us, turning to run pell-mell to the front of the stage, barely stopping at the edge – here we are!!! Can’t wait to start!!! The bright, golden lighting and the way the dancers stop to sit, leaning back nonchalantly, evoke the beach – with Fairey’s mandala as the sun.

Renan Cerdeiro is an impulsive, yearning figure set apart from the group, leaping, seeming as airborne as the bird behind him. He races through the dancers, who cluster like birds on the beach, peeling off to leave him to dance with Patricia Delgado, in an exhilarating duet that’s ardent and playful by turns, lyrical, turning movements giving way to whipping lifts. Peck brings new facets from both Cerdeiro and Delgado (and all the soloists in Heatscape); they are freer, more intense. Delgado, arching up in arabesque as if she would lift right off the stage, has never seemed so passionate.

The second movement, centered on a pas de deux for Tricia Albertson and Kleber Rebello, is somber – nighttime to the morning of the first part, as Baker’s lighting turns the backdrop dark ocean blue and the music turns melancholy. Rebello keeps holding Albertson back; she pulls up through his circling arms, face lifted as if to breath; his hands on her waist stop her as she leans and leaps and reaches away. Several times she joins the ensemble’s women as they bounce slowly on pointe, arms reaching upwards, faces lifted, as if straining for the surface of the water. It’s an oddly terrifying image. Albertson, often a restrained dancer, is also newly intense here.

Heatscape’s energy multiplies in the final movement, with Jeanette Delgado, Shimon Ito and Andrei Chagas in a breakneck trio moving around and between the ensemble. Delgado was at her sparkling, dynamic best, cutting across the stage like a laser. Ito, a corps dancer, shows a sharp, brilliant bravura here, while Chagas, one of MCB’s youngest members, is daring and dynamic. There’s a section where the soloists reprise their parts together that seems a rather formulaic attempt to resolve the dance structurally. But that’s overpowered by the thrills of the ensemble in Heatscape’s final moments, racing through circling patterns that expand and contract in supernova bursts, until they race forward, as if breathless to begin again, just as the curtain comes down.

Had it not been overshadowed by Heatscape, the company premiere of Jerome Robbins famous 1956 comic ballet The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody), would have been a major event. Instead, it was an unexpected delight. Longtime company pianist Francisco Renno, tall and white-bearded, galumphs across the stage to fussily dust off a grand piano and play for a deliciously cartoonish but sharply observed gallery of characters.

MCB’s dancers did a fine job with a style of comedy they’ve never done before. Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg is the ridiculously romantic girl ecstatically wafting about and hugging the piano; Carlos Miguel Guerra a cigar-chomping husband who escapes Callie Manning, his shrewish wife, with increasingly wild flights of fantasy with Kronenberg. Adrienne Carter is the rudely intense bohemian girl in black horn rimmed glasses. Michael Sean Breeden is the bespectacled nerd in yellow sweater vest cowed by Kronenberg’s balletic fantasies. There are satires of Les Sylphides, with Carter, still in black glasses, an out-of-sync sylph; and of Giselle, with Manning as a malevolent Myrtha pursuing Guerra and Kronenberg. There is an array of fabulous 50’s era hats, and an oddly touching, visually poetic sequence with umbrellas. Renno brings The Concert to an unexpected and hilarious end. You can read this ballet as a satire on art, dance, human nature and pretenses. But it’s also simple slapstick fun.

The least satisfying ballet of the evening was George Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations. That the company continues to falter in these intricate musical and choreographic Balanchine gems, at which they used to excel, is discouraging. Set to lovely music by Alexander Glazunov, it’s a suite of solo variations for five women, as well solos and pas de deux for a lead couple, between two ensemble sections. But the soloists were often brittle rather than delicate, lacking in musicality, choppy where they needed to be precise in shape and rhythm. Substituting for Renato Penteado, Kleber Rebello, the only man, was supple and impressive in his solos, floating in hummingbird small jumps and beats, whizzing through long difficult sequences of turns. But his duets with Jennifer Lauren (substituting for Mary Carmen Catoya) seemed strained, and Lauren, usually a lyrical and promising dancer, herself looked tense and not quite up to the part technically.

If you go

What: Miami City Ballet Program IV, with "Raymonda Variations," "The Concert," "Heatscape"

When: 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun.

Where: Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach

Info: $25 to $175, 305-929-7010 or miamicityballet.org

Program repeats April 10 to 12 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, and April 17 to 19 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.

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