The opening of Miami City Ballet’s third program on Friday night featured company premieres of a modern ballet and a classic modern dance. The first, Year of the Rabbit, by Justin Peck, proved sleek, vibrant, and compelling. The second, Sunset, from modern dance giant Paul Taylor, was gutted by a rather startlingly unmusical and shallow performance.
Year of the Rabbit is the third ballet that MCB has mounted by Peck, who created the thrilling Heatscape for the troupe last year, and he and the dancers seem to have clicked on many levels. Year, which Peck, a resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, created in 2012, was his breakthrough ballet. In Friday’s performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House, it showed many of the same qualities as Heatscape: a gift for intricate, dissolving patterns; a tendency to contrast individuals and duos against a group; and an enigmatic sense of drama coupled with exhilarating playfulness.
Year is set to an episodic, bright, and urgent score by Sufjan Stevens, played with verve Friday by the Opus One Orchestra led by Gary Sheldon. The costumes, designed by Peck, are preppily, sleekly athletic, with tights and tops in shades of blue for the men and short, pleated blue-and-white skirts for the women, as if for people playing or competing outdoors.
The piece opens with Nathalia Arja, gamboling like an acrobatic nymph, in front of a phalanx of 12 dancers arrayed in a back corner like a shifting fence — until Renan Cerdeiro bursts through them for a solo, moving with a wonderful, sweeping smoothness and freedom. Throughout, individuals sometimes seem to fight, and sometimes are swept up by the group, which moves with impressive synergy. Shimon Ito is a battling figure, falling to the floor as the corps moves around him, then joining their ranks. Cerdeiro and Tricia Albertson dance together, while the group mirrors them, half in and half out of the wings, as if the dance continued indefinitely beyond the stage.
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Arja, replacing Jeanette Delgado, who continues to be sidelined by injuries, danced with a thrilling fearlessness and verve. When she hurls herself backward into Jovani Furlan’s arms, or when he tosses her overhead in a sky-high arabesque, you catch your breath. Also seen to new advantage was Zoe Zien, a longtime corps dancer who has been showcased in solos recently. She was terrifically compelling in a yearning pas de deux with Furlan, her arms rippling and her body arching around him.
Year of the Rabbit is packed with ideas and striking images. Occasionally, these verge on jarring, as when the corps, striding across a darkening stage, brings their fingers to their lips to say “shhhhh.” It’s a deluge of a dance. But the company, alone and together, seems to exult in swimming through it.
Sunset, the Taylor work that followed, and which The New York Times called “quietly glorious” in its 1983 debut, didn’t come close to that energy. Instead, this piece for six men in khaki uniforms and four women in old-fashioned dresses, meant to evoke the emotion between soldiers and the women who love them, was dramatically, musically, and physically flat.
This is surprising, given that MCB has danced many Taylor pieces, and Sunset was staged by acclaimed former Taylor dancer Kate Johnson. But MCB’s dancers had none of the sense of weight or of the differences in tension or dynamic that give Taylor’s choreography its impact. And they appeared to barely hear the wrenching, melodic Edward Elgar score (played on a recording), or to have a sense of character or intention. Renato Penteado and Kleber Rebello mugged and rushed their way through a duet potentially rife with friendship, competition, and attraction. Jennifer Lauren seemed tense and uncertain in a section where she walks across the bent-over men. Whatever once made Sunset glorious was invisible here.
The company looked far better in George Balanchine’s grandly exhilarating Bourrée Fantasque, set to sweeping, sparkling music by Emmanuel Chabrier (thankfully played live). The Karinska costumes for this 1949 ballet — sparkly black tutus, corset-style tops, and long fingerless gloves for the women, and black berets for the men — give it the ooh-la-la look of a 1950s movie musical in a Hollywood Paris. There are some coy bits that look dated, as when Simone Messmer kisses Rebello behind a fan, or the men fall to the floor to look the women’s legs.
But mostly Bourée Fantasque is packed with energy and invention for its massive cast of 42 dancers. Messmer and Rebello are the flamboyant, flirtatious leaders of the prancing first section. Albertson and Rainer Krenstetter sweep through a grand, romantic pas de deux in the second, with an arch corps of women in diaphanous skirts (though Krenstetter’s lordly mannerisms verged on caricature). The final segment, with Penteado just containing a to-the-precipice Arja, features a thrilling use of masses of dancers. They sweep across the stage in ruffled battalions, spin in a giant wheel, in a brilliant kaleidoscope of motion.
The program can be seen Feb. 20-21 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and Feb. 26-28 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
If You Go
What: Miami City Ballet in Program III.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
Info: $20 to $99, miamicityballet.org or 305-929-7010.
Program repeats Feb. 20-21 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and Feb. 26-28 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.