Miami City Ballet in ‘Heatscape,’ a Fleeting Chase of Romance

By Alastair MacAulay

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — No ballet by the 27-year-old choreographer Justin Peck is much like another; with each assignment he sets himself new choreographic hurdles. But Mr. Peck has quickly become the most eminent choreographer of ballet in the United States — and two particular characteristics have propelled him to the top: the exciting formal architecture of his dances and the kinesthetic thrill of his movement.

Certainly his latest ballet, “Heatscape,” which had its premiere at the Kravis Center here over the weekend with Miami City Ballet, shows his gift for memorably picturesque, changing group shapes: lines, rings, clusters occur at various points and angles on the stage, registering dramatically. Meanwhile the dancers infectiously show the appeal of the ebullient movement he gives to them, with contrasting through-the-body ripples, pounces, bends, jumps and changes of direction.

The curtain rises, in silence, to show a row of dancers across the rear of the stage, backs to us, silhouetted as if looking at the view. Actually, the backdrop just behind them is a two-tier array of colorful pattern by Shepard Fairey/ — the lower level, just taller than the performers, in two different browns; the main upper part a red sunburst. The idea might be of a glowing sky above a cityscape.

The dancers wear informal sleeveless white by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung — the men in tops and shorts, the women in dresses (each nicely individualized in cut). The shoes, sand-colored, often make these people look barefoot. All of them turn, run to the front as if to catch another view — and the music begins.

The score, almost 30 minutes long, is the first piano concerto (1925) by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959), whose music has been used by the choreographers Kenneth MacMillan, Mark Morris and, in 2013, Mr. Peck, in City Ballet’s “Paz de la Jolla” (recently the subject of the film “Ballet 422”). Whereas “Paz de la Jolla” more specifically evoked Southern California, “Heatscape” lets us imagine we’re on the Atlantic coast of South Florida in a generalized way. A recurrent theme is what can and can’t be seen…

…“Heatscape” was sandwiched by excellent performances of Balanchine’s ultraclassical “Raymonda Variations” (1962) and Jerome Robbins’s classic comedy “The Concert” (1956). The level of dancing in the “Raymonda” was extraordinarily high at both performances, with virtuoso coloratura made musically acute and danced with full-out verve. Miami City Ballet, a jubilant and endearing company, refreshes the eyes and spirit.

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