From the very beginning of Justin Peck’s Heatscape, the Miami City Ballet dancers took ownership of the stage. Set to Bohuslav Martinu’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra, the ballet is passionately conceived and it was danced with swagger while Francisco Rennó played the piano with plenty of swagger of his own. Peck has made a habit of putting his dancers at the front of the stage, facing the audience. Heatscape opened with the dancers upstage, their backs to us. They turned, ran to the front of the stage and looked out at the audience with something of an attitude that asked; are you ready for this? There was an urgent and playful mix of casual running mixed with formal dancing which gave the piece extra velocity when it needed it. Sometimes you get so excited that you just have to run like hell.

Miami City Ballet dancers in Peck's <i>Heatscape</i> © Gene Schiavone
Miami City Ballet dancers in Peck's Heatscape
© Gene Schiavone
The first movement featured Emily Bromberg and Renan Cerdeiro moving at a brisk tempo. Cerdeiro was a motivating force who got everyone else moving and his pas de deux with Bromberg embraced the energy of the music. Another trait common to Peck ballets is that he never forgets that a pas de deux is about two people dancing together. He builds in moments for the partners to dance face to face. They get to look at each other and build a rapport which translates into a deeper and more intimate performance experience. That was evident throughout the ballet. The second movement, the adagio, featured Tricia Albertson partnered by Kleber Rebello. They started out lounging on the floor as if they were at the beach and they worked their way up to a dance that suggested tenderness and at times seemed like playing in water before eventually finishing back where they started: on the beach. The third movement had Jennifer Lauren partnered with Shimon Ito and Andrei Chagas. These three are compact and energetic dancers. Lauren is a powerhouse all by herself with her sustained balances and flying jumps. As the piece built to a climax, Peck brought all the soloists back on stage to reprise their parts and the action was fast and furious. It finished with the whole company reprising the opening sequence.

Liam Scarlett’s Viscera suffered by comparison to Peck’s ballet. Lowell Liebermann’s piano concerto is intensely rhythmic and features a cascade of tonal shifts but there is little by way of melody to hang a ballet on. It’s completely forgettable. Scarlett matched the action to the music but it had a relentlessly driving quality to it that became numbing the longer it went on. It looked impressive with the women divided between deep maroon and midnight blue leotards and the men in plum colored outfits. Lost in boredom, I began to think of it as the blueberries vs. the plums which is not not a bad sign. Viscera owes much to Balanchine by way of inspiration with its patterns and classical abstraction but the piece failed to excite me.

<i>Bourrée Fantasque</i> Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust © Gene Schiavone
Bourrée Fantasque Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
© Gene Schiavone
Balanchine’s thoroughly charming Bourrée Fantasque closed out the program in style. As performed by the dancers of Miami City Ballet, this piece is a dated but thoroughly charming tribute to Busby Berkeley. Gorgeously long-legged Jordan-Elizabeth Long paired up with the shorter-by-a-head Shimon Ito in the first movement and they made the most of their comic height difference. When she raised her leg in attitude behind his head she gave him a playful tap with her foot. It’s old school comedy but it still worked. The women of the corps worked their fans with flirtatious ease. The second movement paired Simone Messmer and Rainer Krenstetter in a soft and lovely pas de deux. It looks like Messmer has found herself a home in Miami. She danced the part with flowing lyricality that was nothing short of sumptuous. In the third part, Nathalia Arja and Renato Penteado took over like speed demons in a rollicking polonaise. It culminated in an outrageous circle of continuous movement. They swirled round and round with joyous abandon that would put any old Hollywood musical to shame. It was one of those times that you wanted to be up in the fourth ring so you could see the patterns in all their glory.

As a matter of overall style, I noted that Miami City Ballet bears a marked resemblance to the New York City Ballet under Balanchine. The dancers’ hands and wrists were very much in evidence in everything they did. Their thumbs are extended away from the hand and all the fingers are separated and moving. As they raise and lower their hands, their wrists break, creating a sharp angle. Under Peter Martins, the City Ballet dancers no longer do the mannered hands so it was something of a flashback to see it again. The women of the company tend to be taut and compact. They’re built for speed and fun to watch. There’s more variability among the men in terms of body types but they are uniformly strong and disciplined. Altogether it adds up to an exciting dance company that I’d like to see visit New York more often.