Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez titled the final program of the 2014-15 season, “Points of Departure,” a nod to the world and company premieres on the program. If I were to title the opening performance at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center last weekend, I would have chosen, “The Joy of Dance.”
From the opening downbeat from Opus One Orchestra conductor Gary Sheldon to the final curtain call, the dancers and musicians offered a performance marked by passion and sheer exuberance.
The program opened with George Balanchine’s “Raymonda Variations,” vignettes set to selections from Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s late 19th-century ballet, “Raymonda.” Unlike the cathartic scores of his czarist era contemporaries, Glazunov’s score is lilting and trite, pleasant to listen to and punctuated with the sounds of glockenspiel and harp.
Balanchine’s ballet, which debuted in 1961, bookends various solos and pas de deux with large ensemble dances featuring the corps du ballet in his signature style, architectural, almost engineered movements as the ballerinas pass through human chains and form rotating pinwheels and gates.
Principal dancer Kleber Rebello and soloist Jennifer Lauren were the featured couple, dancing as one in the pas de deux, while astonishing the audience with their effortless leaps and turns in the solo movements. The West Palm Beach audience rewarded their efforts with multiple ovations.
Had Balanchine been born a century later, he might have created “Heatscape,” the world premiere ballet commissioned by 28-year-old wunderkind Justin Peck. Peck set his ballet to early 20th century Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (performed flawlessly by Francisco Rennó). It was an appropriate match for Peck’s choreography: both music and dance were firmly rooted in the classical form, but occasionally ventured into contemporary harmonies and movements.
The work was also inspired by a dramatic mural created by artist Shepard Fairey whose work was discovered by Peck during an outing to the famous Wynwood walls. A giant sun dominates the mural, which stylistically implies Indian, Art Deco and street art influences.
The ballet at first suggests youthful games on a playground as the dancers playfully interact with each other, alternating classical technique with running and jumping. Regardless, all three movements were danced with passion and an almost reckless abandon.
The program concluded with a company premiere, “The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody)” by Jerome Robbins. A comedic ballet set at an outdoor concert featured many familiar solo piano works—polonaises, mazurkas, waltzes and preludes—by Frederic Chopin. Arranged as a sort of concerto with orchestral accompaniment, Rennó is placed on stage and must perform double duty as a character in the scene.
The laughs begin almost immediately as Rennó takes his place at the piano and the assorted band of audience members arrive. They engage in romantic trysts and even a little intrigue in the clever “charade.” Chopin’s famous “Raindrop” prelude is punctuated with umbrellas and clever props play key roles in the other scenes.
Not only did the company master the challenging choreography—it was MUCH more complicated than it looked—but they immersed themselves in their roles, again earning thunderous applause and shouts to conclude the program.
After nearly 10 seasons following Miami City Ballet, I can say “Points of Departure” is one of my favorite programs and should not be missed.
Miami City Ballet repeats Program IV: “Points of Departure” at the Arsht Center in Miami, April 10 – 12, and at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, April 17-19. For tickets and show times, go to MiamiCityBallet.org.