BalletX, a Philadelphia-based contemporary ballet company, opened the Duncan Theatre’s popular Modern Dance Series on Jan. 17 in Lake Worth.
Under the leadership of Christine Cox, with an artistic mission to commission ballets from choreographers around the globe that will be inclusive and satisfying to the audience, the company has presented 78 world premieres by 39 choreographers since it was founded just 14 years ago. During this time in the arts, this is an extremely impressive feat.
The dynamic 10-member company is comprised of half women and half men, all of whom are wonderfully individual dancers with great technical ability, and on that Friday night, they seized the stage with unfiltered energy as they presented two duets bookended by two ensemble works, each of which was created by different choreographers.
The first dance presented on the program was Increasing, choreographed in 2014 by Matthew Neenan, one of the Co-founder of BalletX who is now pursuing his choreographic career independently. Neenan’s work was aptly titled as he adroitly synced his movement with the increasing intensity of the first movement of Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C major (D. 956).
Schubert, who composed this quintet just before his death, chose to use two cellos instead of the traditional two violas, thus creating a lower and richer register. Schubert created an expansive score for string quintet that is harmonic rather than melodious and where the tension and motion increase especially during this long first movement.
Neenan said in the choreographer notes in the program that his only intent while choreographing Increasing was to parallel Schubert’s quintet. Following the structure of the score, Neenan beautifully shaped his kinetic work with layers of quick and dynamic movement sculpted into interesting patterns and formations not only successfully achieving his goal but also creating a strong work to introduce the talented dancers of BalletX and show off their brash energy, amazing speed and brilliant clarity.
As the 10 dancers crisscrossed the stage during Increasing, it was Roderick Phifer and Stanley Glover who stole my eye. They were so finely attuned to each other, superbly dancing side by side, using the same varied nuances and impulses in their unison work. Also impressive were Andrea Yorita and Richard Villaverde in their duet and Skyler Lubin, a former Miami City Ballet dancer.
Unfortunately, the costuming for Increasing appeared more of an afterthought rather than an integral attribute of the dance. The slightly medieval, pale blue leotard tunics that the women wore (which were by courtesy of the Pennsylvania Ballet) looked bland and worn and weren’t particularly flattering, and the innocuous gray pants and tops that the men wore looked like a stopgap solution to accompany the borrowed women’s costumes. A dance work as lovely and well-constructed as this deserved a more thoughtful and professional costume design.
Catchy music, cool moves and a delightful rapport were on full show in Fancy Me, which highlighted the choreographer Caili Quan with Roderick Phifer. Dressed in brightly colored sneakers and trendy streetwear, the two showed off their smooth and subtle street moves to the sound and rhythms of “Groove Me,” by King Floyd. Both were so engaging that I found myself smiling as I watched. That is, until the music ended with an awkward fade and Quan and Phifer stopped moving just as the dancing was really starting to take off. I felt robbed, as if someone had snatched away a delicious dessert mid-bite.
Then suddenly — after a too-fast transition blackout — we were thrust into another, very different duet. Again there were a man and woman onstage, but this time it wasn’t fun and lighthearted, it was dramatic and dark. The couple, Chloe Perkes and Richard Villaverde, were caught in a period of struggle in their relationship. It’s Not a Cry began with two stark downward spotlights isolating Perkes, who was barelegged and wearing the jacket of a man’s suit, and Villaverde, who was bare-chested and wearing the pants of a man’s suit.
When they came together to dance, Villaverde (an excellent partner) manipulated Perkes with a strong physicality. But at different moments during the duet, as Perkes took more control, we could see the power between them shift. Choreographed by Amy Seiwert, It’s Not a Cry was danced to lyrics of love and loss in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in the version by Jeff Buckley.
The final work of the evening was Steep Drop, Euphoric, a full ensemble work choreographed by Nicolo Fonte that premiered a year ago. Beginning with the strident chords of string instruments, the gesture-ladened choreography was unabashed drama. Sharp and fast movement was interspersed with quiet tableaux, duets and a solo by Perkes where she unrolled a stiff roll of white dance flooring that hung down in a corner of the stage dividing the space and providing an interesting focus.
Though the dancers gave an energized and committed performance, the choreography came across as a mishmash. The attractive, spring-like, pastel-colored flowing chiffon and mesh costumes costumes designed by Christine Darch as well as the sudden appearance of the women in pointe shoes seemed at odds with the mood of pseudo-angst that permeated the work which was filled with gestures of clawed hands and upward reaching arms.
In his choreographer notes, Fonte attempted to explain: “Perhaps the only places left unexplored are the canyons of your interior geography, and the dark alleys of your consciousness — one of which might lead you to your road to bliss.”
Steep Drop, Euphoric utilized a variety of music — the first and last selections were by Italian composer Ezio Bosso and the middle by Icelandic multi-instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds.