On Their Toes

Two men in T-shirts and baggy pants are taking a cigarette break at the entrance to the Mencia-Pikieris School of Dance in Perrine. The blonde with the Australian accent is David Palmer. His dark-haired counterpart is Yanis Pikieris, who runs the school with his wife, Marielena Mencia. Together Palmer and Pikieris are a dynamic dance duo, founders and artistic directors of Miami's aptly named Maximum Dance Company as well as choreographers, performers, and community activists. How do they manage to wear so many hats? “We're insane,” deadpans Pikieris, “and we're also used to it.”

Upstairs in their rehearsal studio, high windows reveal a threatening sky as the two veteran dancers, both Miami City Ballet alums, watch (and participate in) a run-through of their troupe's upcoming season premiere. With only two weeks to go, today is “good news-bad news” day. Ten topnotch dancers in workout clothes break effortlessly into one of the pieces, a collage of movement that's moody, frenetic, and sensitive. Partners pair off and separate with intense control, precise abandon, flowing through a range of emotions as intricate as their gestures, all pegged to the spinning phrases of Philip Glass.

“Our base is classical ballet,” says Pikieris, whose award-winning international career has taken him around the globe. “Then we go in many directions. We'd like to be the most versatile company, to discover around the world what is going on instead of staying here cooked in our own sauce.”

The inaugural program certainly is a mix. It nods to tradition with the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux and moves to the witty Bach de Trois, performed to jazzified classical music. Finally it shifts to more modern ballets new to the company's repertoire: Below the Rim, choreographed by K.T. Nelson of ODC San Francisco; and an untitled collaboration with Italy's Paolo Mohovich, which uses jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval's Hot House album to set the pace for a sexy, high-energy romp through a grand old hotel.

Back downstairs in the company's new office space Pikieris declares: “We have this program ready; it's basically ready.” Good news. The directors attribute this sense of stability to a now-permanent lineup of talent hailing from companies such as American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet and a three-year contract with the newly renovated Gusman Center downtown.

In its fourth season the small repertory company may be solidifying, but chatting with its principals can be fluid, almost dancelike. There is an easy rhythm of interruption and interjection, a constant interplay of thoughts and words that mirrors their artistic partnership. “We enjoy working together so much,” says Palmer, most recently a principal with the San Francisco Ballet. “We really just wonder why more people can't, don't do it. It's a good soup.” Pikieris continues: “I can't see anything more wonderful than sharing and having an idea and saying, “Okay, we have to do this; let's go!' We feed from each other's energy and we turn the work into a fun, creative experience.”

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Robin Shear