It was an unusually chilly evening for May in Philly. A wednesday night. Sounds like a perfect night to lock ourselves in a cozy room with a quick delivery meal and a movie or a book. Not for Philadelphia dance enthusiasts.
In the second week of BalletX’s final program of its 2016-2017 season, the Wilma Theater saw full house with crowds of young and old (I’m pretty sure that the adorable lady who was sitting near me was around age 5). The company is always up to share their love of dance with all kinds of pop-ups and events. The wednesday was Young Xers Night for young professionals, artists, students, and art lovers. Curated special cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (from Federal Donut!) were served before the performance and made a potentially dull wednesday night a fun and exciting one.
The curtain opened for the first piece, a company premiere choreographed by Cayetano Soto, to a theater packed with excited and happy people. The title,“Schachmatt”, means “checkmate” in English, and the dancers disguise chess pieces on a stage floor decorated with black and white squares like a chess board.
Soto explores the relationship between his mind and his heart—a game between reasoning and feeling. Dressed in costume like boy scouts with short pants and khaki shirts, the dancers start marching and moving uniformly and neatly. As a strategic chess game happens on the stage, some unexpected moves suddenly occur.
Soto’s dance style is a blend of contemporary ballet and jazz dance—especially “Fosse dance” which uses hands in unique way. The dancers shake their hands over their head, hug their bodies with their own hands, wave their hands between partners’ legs. It gives the piece a comical and sophisticated texture at the same time, like the opening animation of the movie “Pink Panther”.
Next up is a world premiere created by one of the company’s projects, BalletX Choreographic Fellowship. Each season, one promising choreographer is selected for an opportunity to develop their career and gain a chance to create a world premiere on the BalletX dancers. This season, Tommie-Waheed Evans, the artist-in-residence of Philadanco and a faculty member at the University of the Arts, presented his world premiere “In Between the Passing…”.
The music of his choice, Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 by Henryk Górecki, is titled Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. True to its name, sorrowful and dramatic sounds of string instruments fill the theater as Evans explores time and morality through the dancers’ bodies and movements. Inspired by the digital artist Bill Viola, the work leaves the impression that Evan is in midst of exploring not only on the concept of this work but how to express and depict his thought and ideas through dance. The intentions of the movements and steps are sometimes unclear, but remain dramatic and dynamic. The piece is performed beautifully and fondly by the always expressive dancers of BalletX.
The last piece of the program is “The Last Glass”, choreographed by the co-founder of BalletX, Matthew Neenan. It’s an intriguing work. There are two ballerinas in tutu and pointe shoes. Other dancers are dressed in casual shirts or tank top and shorts. One female dancer is in a costume of 17th or 18th century underwear—a corset and knickers.
Songs by American indie-rock band, Beirut set the mood of the piece like a street fair or a nostalgic amusement park. The dancers are lively and energetic. The choreography is loaded with steps of classical and contemporary ballet. The ballerinas show off their move on pointe gracefully and seductively.
Among the cheerful scenes, however, the dancers show sudden expressions of frustrations or suffering, as if a fear creeps up their legs and arms. They hold their heads and their bodies spasm. The curtain closes as the female dancer in the knickers suddenly recognizes her distance from other dancers, gazing at them skipping and leaving her alone on the stage.
Neenan captures the feeling of loneliness or isolation that we feel in the city meeting and encountering people every single day. The work makes the viewers explore relationships and interactions between people.
Though different in color and mood, all three pieces are entertaining and intellectual.
[The Wilma Theater; 265 S Broad Street] April 26-May 7; http://balletx.org/seasons/spring-series-2017/