The Miami City Ballet opened its season last weekend at the Arsht Center with a modern program marked by minimalist music and mixed metaphors.

Artistic Director Edward Villella, long a champion of his mentor George Balanchine, chose “Square Dance,” the master’s modernist interpretation of the traditional folk dance to open Program I. Set to music by Baroque composers Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli, the work seemed more an ode to the formal courtly dances of the period—allemandes, gavottes and minuets—than the “do-si-do” found in square dances.

The music of the orchestra, ably conducted by Gary Sheldon, was punctuated throughout with the percussive rhythms of the ballerinas’ toe shoes, a striking contrast to the lilting strings. Sleek white and cool grey leotards accentuated the contemporary interpretation, along with stark lighting designed by John Hall.

“Afternoon of the Faun,” a pas de deux featuring Patricia Delgado and Yann Trividic, followed. Set to Claude Debussy’s lush impressionistic score, this ballet by Jerome Robbins, is surprising stark, set in an empty dance studio, inspired by an encounter had with a young student at the School of American Ballet, Villella himself. Delgado is entrancing, a muse to Trividic who enters and exits, leaving the dancer curled in a ball on the dance floor.

The mystical music of contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part sets the tone for “Liturgy,” another pas de deux, this time featuring Katia Carranza and Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a critically-acclaimed young talent, “Liturgy” is a haunting ballet, calling on the hints of exotic Asian rhythms in Part’s music to suggest a spiritual moment between the dancers.  Initially shadowing Carranza’s Balinese-inspired movements, Garcia-Rodriguez then engages his partner in a series of interlocking forms and effortless lifts that had the audience enthralled in a seemingly religious moment.

The program concluded with Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” a series of vignettes set to the incessant minimalist rhythms and bombastic blasts of Philip Glass. In the notes to her ballet, Tharp references two ceramic Chinese temple dogs guarding the entrance, several “stompers” and a “bomb squad.” The narrative is really not indicative of any real narrative as the stage seems to freely undulate with non-stop movement, a cacophony of joyous, athletic movement that is as tiring to watch as it undoubtedly is to dance.

Hall’s lighting and effects are crucial to the magic of the work as dancers enter and exit the stage through dark clouds of smoke. “In the Upper Room” may not appeal to every dance lover. The music is abstract and Tharp’s choreography is frenetic and overwhelming, but the roar of applause at the conclusion signaled the audience’s appreciation for the athleticism and endurance displayed by the dancers.

Program I

Works by Balanchine, Robbins, Wheeldon and Tharp

Miami City Ballet

Oct. 28-30

Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale

Tickets and show times at BrowardCenter.org

Dec. 9-11

Kravis Center, West Palm Beach

Tickets and show times at Kravis.org

For more information, MiamiCityBallet.org