Fall Series (BalletX): Darkness on the edge of ballet

BalletX’s Fall Series features three disparate dances united by evocative lighting schemes and the genre-stretching beauty of movement which characterizes the company.

The centerpiece of the program is a world premiere by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo. Based solidly within a ballet vocabulary, Elo’s “Gran Partita” sees ten dancers in an fast-changing array of groupings. Their movements match the musicality of the accompanying sonatas by Mozart, Bach, and Berg, as Elo joins tight graceful phrasings into a captivating sequences. Drew Billiau’s lighting illuminates front stage, while the rear fades into ghostly fog and dimmer light. The piece ends curiously, anticlimactically, and its emotion remains, lingering like the notes of a radio tune cut off mid-melody.

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Chloe Felesina and Richard Villaverde in Jorma Elo’s “Gran Partita”. Photo by: Alexander Iziliaev

BalletX cofounder Matthew Neenan is becoming an increasingly sought-after choreographer, with commissions from companies across the nation. It’s fortunate then that he brings his enticingly inventive pieces back to his home company. His “Increasing” premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival in August 2014. A fluid blend of modern and classical movement, the piece is getting its East Coast premiere with outstanding performances by Chloe Felesina and others. The music, Schubert’s “String Quintet in C Major”, is key to the choreography, and fittingly performed live by players from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Andrea Yorita (and musicians) in Matthew Neenan's "Increasing"  Photo by: Bill Hebert

Andrea Yorita (and musicians) in Matthew Neenan’s “Increasing”. Photo by: Bill Hebert.

The darkest piece of the program, Olivier Wevers’s “Instantly Bound” is inspired by the loss and tragedies of gun violence. The music (“Greed Mutation Betrayal”, Klimek; “Broken Marching Band”, Ezekiel Honig; “Melodia”, Johann Johannsson) pulses and screeches, the light (Robb Andersen) illuminates only a small circle of the stage, leaving fields of darkness from which the dancers appear, their movements staccato, baleful, somber. Earth-toned costumes by Aviad Arik Herman provide a counterpoint of soft nature to the violence of man. It’s the least affecting piece of the program, but contains an intelligently coherent message: the strength of human connections in the wake of violence and loss.

Chloe Felesina and Richard Villaverde in Olivier Wevers' "Instantly Bound". Photo by: Bill Hebert.

Chloe Felesina and Richard Villaverde in Olivier Wevers’ “Instantly Bound”. Photo by: Bill Hebert.

Together, the three pieces form a varied, engaging program of darkness and beauty. [The Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street] November 19-23, 2014; balletx.org.

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Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.