BalletX @ X
Photo: Alexander Iziliaev

BalletX @ X

a luminous retrospective

Wilma Theater, Philadelphia
April 20-24
www.balletx.org

Gold-flecked wings adorned the sinewy bodies of Chloe Felesina, Francesca Forcella and Daniel Mayo as a trio of dance angels in Matt Neenan’s “Frequencies,” while the elegiac folk music of Jump Little Children flooded the Wilma Theater opening night of BalletX’s concert. The event marked the 10 anniversary of BalletX, with a decade of repertory excerpts and the premiere of a new work by choreographer Kevin O’Day.

Neenan’s 2005 trio was looking fresh as ever, and evocative of the company’s most auspicious beginnings. Neenan, along with company co-founder Christine Cox and Tara Keating, danced this scene in the original cast. Cox, now executive director and Keating, the associate artistic director, crafted a lucid concert of scenes from BX’s the more than 50 works they have have produced in a decade, collaborating with some of the most in-demand choreographers working today. Ballet extracts can make for a disjointed revisit of greatest hits, but this compendium of BX scenes showed many inner connected creative threads, among them, fine craft, liberated technique, ensemble luster and representing the kinetic breadth of BX’s dance artistry.

Among the many highlights –

From 2006, a duet from Neenan’s deconstructionist ballet “Broke Apart” with Skyler Lubin and Richard Villaverde. Breaking down those ballet positions to utilize as merely a tool for a pas de deux of not so cat and mouse. Lubin with razor pirouettes finished with a complete breakout moves as the couple shoves the barre out of the way.

In 2007 Cox and Neenan also performed their loitering with intent dance on a bench to Rufus’s funk classic ‘Tell Me Something Good’ in their co-choreographed piece. In this performance Francesca Forcella and Zachary Kapeluck are the lusty and antagonistic couple. No euphemistic dance language here and still a delightfully explicit.

Annabella Lopez Ochoa’s “Still@Life” from 2008, for the full company in black tunics and skirts are in a group frieze as Bach plays and Gary W. Jeter II walks through them, animating the dance. Ochoa’s voluptuous ensemble geometric and fused balletic phrases move with such witty intricacy that the apples in everyone’s hand seem to appear out of thin air. This work is exemplar of BalletX signature territory between classicism and contemporary idioms.

From Alex Ketley’s “Silt” (2009) there are two couples in mirroring duets and a study in precision dance where the personalities of the couples look both the same and completely different on the different couples.

Neenan’s “The Last Glass” (2010) with music by Beirut, with dancers in gauzy vests, bloomers and mini-tutus is a communal love dance, with everyone pairing up. Chloe Felesina is about to be kissed when partner Gary Jeter dances off, to a grungy waltz riff, everybody in a swirl of a dance mosaic Chloe remains frozen in the center. Neenan fine sense of stage composition, musicality and theatrical arc present even in this vignette.

Also from Ochoa, a finale from her 2011’s dance satire “Castrati” with the dances in skimpy Versailles couture as mesmerizing as ever. Ochoa’s dance language decorated with opulent gesture and poses devolves to grotesqueries and danced with deft irony by the company.

Jodie Gates’ “Delicate Balance” from 2012 with a stunning adagio duet by Felesina and Jeter. Set to music cathartic violin music by Max Richter. Gates’ sumptuous, untangled and lucid choreography makes this one of the most visceral and intimate duets you will see. Felesina and Jeter are completely inside the music, choreography and otherwise completely hypnotic in this performance.

Nicholas Fonte’s “Beautiful Decay” (2013) with Andrea Yorka leading Kapeluck, Mayo and Villaverde as one of the best point dancers around. She can just hang on point in perfect balance, and even when she is being hoisted in and out of one precarious lift after another, she remains on diamond pointe.

Jorma Elo’s “Gran Partita” (2014) for full company streaming of male-female duets with lover and disquieting mise-en-scenes that keep evolving to Bach’s majestic counterpoint.

The current roster of BX dancers, many new to this repertory, nailed the disparate artistry of each piece with full- on attack and ensemble luster.

And they weren’t done. The concert concluded with the premiere of Kevin O’Day’s “Time Curves” with original music by John King performed concert hall cellist (and Curtis Institute alum) Wendy Sutter on stage with the dancers. The immensely talented O’Day’s abstract choreography seems to embody the wending and driving, sometimes dissonant cello lines. The women first in satiny floor lengths, that come on and off, and various chunks of O’Day’s concepts fascinating and tapping BX’s main strengths, but other sections looking ponderous or overcrowded with ideas with no contextual resolve. It strikes as a middle draft, will report back if it makes the next retro-concert. Meanwhile, great dancer synergy with the virtuoso Sutter with such great moments as the dancers pausing to turn her charts as she nails a King’s torrent of dramatic notes.

Philadelphia,
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.