Photo: Whitney Browne.

BalletX Spring 2024

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia was sold-out for the opening night of BalletX’s Spring Series with a triple bill featuring premieres by choreographers Jennifer Archibald and Nicola Wills and a revival of Jodie Gates’ stirring 2017 ballet ‘Beautiful Once.’

With close to 100 new ballets in their repertory, Artistic Director Christine Cox continues to collaborate with choreographers from the US and abroad. Cox established the Choreographic Fellowship program that has become a creative haven for both established and emerging dance makers.

Opening the concert was Gates’ ‘Beautiful Once’ scored to the arresting orchestral (and vocals) by composer Ryan Lott as ten dancers float in all dancing different expressive choreography in a defuse pool of light they form a circle, the women on pointe, in a fluid stream. The break off into pairs and a series of duet ensue.

Ashley Simpson slides across the stage on full-pointe and dances a pas de duex with Jarard Palazo. Jared Kelly and Francesca Forcella in a lyrically athletic duet. Actually, all of the five couple captivate in different ways with interpretive artistry. Each expressive, meditative, and intimate in different ways. Gates tapping into all of BX’s strengths in balletic fusion that ignites this company. Innovative lifts, expressive movement, philosophical and body electric. The energy in the room is cathartic and ‘Beautiful Once’ on this cast, as it did in the premiere run in 2017, has the look of a BalletX signature work.

A torch song opens Nicola Wills’ (BX 2024 Choreographic Fellow) opens ‘Two People in Love Never Shake Hands’ with a torch song by Joep Beving that conjures the voyeuristic dance-noir atmospherics with the women dressed in long statin dresses by Christine Darch (ala MGM’s Gowns by Adrian) and the men is retro suits milling about looking to hook up. The outsider is romantic Jared Kelly who wanders on stage with a bouquet of roses amid 10 dancers in the midst of a raucous party scene. And lurking on the sidelines lurk two dancers clad in tight black outfits and play cards at a table and intrude on the scene to move people together- or pull them apart. Are a steely eyed couple dressed in black who represent the random inner emotions of the party goers, and drolly expressive as danced by Jonathan Montepara and Annika Kuo.

In the shadows upstage is a live string quartet -Maria Im (Violin), Alexandr Kislitsyn (Violin), Caleb Paxton (Cello), Branson Yeast (Viola)- performs original chamber/cabaret music by composer Adam Vincent Clarke.

The partners dance around each other, but the couple in black hover over the characters and dance out what is going on inside the psyche of said couple. Lanie Jackson and Jared Kelly dance an anguished solo, but finally reach their moment of emotional truth, The specters remove their clothes (to flesh-tone briefs) and to dance Wills’ sensually liberating duet. Wills ballet strikes as overpacked with ideas at key moments, That aside, it was obvious that most of the audience obviously were completely seduced by the dancers and Wills’ stream of dance consciousness.

In her ballet ‘Maslow’s Peak’ Jennifer Archibald seeks to strip away masks of a dancer, to release their inner truth that the choreographer can tap into) Archibald explain is “ the point where the dancer reaches the realization of self-fulfillment and its implicit implications.” A full company piece with 15 dancers in costume designer Emily Morgan’s shorty black tights skirted in the back and kneepads to protect Archibald’s dance-warrior choreography of body drops, spidery moves, and hurtling slides across the dancefloor. The feral athleticism fused with thrilling balletic aerials and sharp unison ensemble passages. Archibald’s builds a structure of quicksilver pure dance set to percussion master composers Zakir Hussain and Mickey Hart. Archibald’s symbolic and literal narrative is in development, the choreography in this piece is developed, meanwhile, this ballet is a preview to Archibald’s dance adaptation of William Golding’s novel ‘Lord of the Flies,’ scheduled for 2025..

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