Edgy. Experimental. Eccentric. BalletX is nothing if not innovative. The company didn’t disappoint in the recent, sold-out Winter Series.
The pinnacle of the series was Trey McIntyre’s “Big Ones,” a zany, vaudevillian piece that captivated with its unpredictability. With a clear sense of humor, McIntyre’s choreography is as dark, raw, and snarky as the music of Amy Winehouse, to which it’s set. “Big Ones” announces its eccentricity from the very top, as unique lighting highlights headpieces atop stands waiting for the dancers. The headpieces don long, sturdy rabbit-like ears. I wasn’t sure if they were for pure absurdity or if they referenced Winehouse’s signature beehive. Did I mention it was zany?
In a pre-show Q&A with the choreographers (led by Lisa Kraus), McIntyre stated if he weren’t a choreographer he would be creating art through any other medium. A statement I predict would be true: “Big Ones” was the most complete piece of art from the Winter Series. McIntyre balances emotions, composition on the stage, and theatricality with talent and ease.
What’s remarkable about the modern ballet that BalletX exemplifies is the celebration of the human body – of dancers with varying body forms — contrasting the one-size fits all approach to classical ballet. What’s more, modern ballet in our 21st century society pairs same-sex duos with no ulterior motives. (Don’t read into it as narrative, they’re more likely paired because of height similarities than any political statement.) BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan’s “Show Me” embodies these outstanding characteristics of modern dance.
“Show Me” was an East Coast Premiere set to the music of Beethoven, Padma Newsome, Aoife O’Donovan, Christina Courtin, and Lev Zhurbin, all performed by Brooklyn Rider. First shown at Vail International Dance Festival, Neenan expanded “Show Me” to include two new movements. Playful and light, “Show Me” opened the evening by showcasing BalletX’s core talents, if not Neenan’s strongest work.
This Winter Series introduced a new program BalletX instituted this year, a Choreographic Fellowship. The Fellowship was funded by the Wyncote Foundation, to provide a talented, emerging choreographer the opportunity to create new work under the mentorship of a world-renowned choreographer. The inaugural position was filled by Yin Yue, who was so excited about the opportunity she applied one full month before the deadline (and, of course, had an unparalleled application).
Yin Yue worked under Trey McIntyre’s mentorship. The work Yue created, “One Heartbeat Above One Shadow Below”, is “an emotion exploration” of the temporality and exquisite beauty of human life. The work starts with a frenzy of movement to the fast-paced rhythm of an original score by Juliane Jones and Doug Beiden. The frenzy mirrors the chaos of human existence as the movement explores the concept of death and the value of life.
The program notes indicate that “One Heartbeat…” was Yue’s first attempt to choreograph a narrative – and her attempt, while effective, feels too defined, without the subtleties of more polished artistic expression. That said, the fierce and dramatic movements are breathtakingly dynamic and creative. Yue’s incorporation of folk and classical Chinese dance forms merge into what must’ve been an arduous and demanding performance, beautifully executed by BalletX company dancers. [Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street] February 10-14, 2016; balletx.org.