Winter Series 2017 (BalletX): Exploring and experimenting

balletx winter series 2017
Zachary Kapeluck and Andrea Yorita in “On the Mysterious Properties of Light” by R. Colby Damon in BalletX Winter Series 2017. Photo by Bill Hebert.

In a city cooled by icy air, BalletX heats up the Wilma Theater with a two-week run of Winter Series, their first program in 2017. The three premieres by three choreographers they present are like three very different but equally good short novels, giving viewers kicks to their minds and senses.

The program opens with the East Coast premiere of Credo, by company co-founder and choreographer Matthew Neenan. Set to Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76 No.1 and Kevin Puts’s Credo played live on the stage by alumni of the Curtis Institute of Music and Yale University, the ballet is about a statement of beliefs or aims that guide our actions.

The dancers are dressed in simple but vivid costumes that look like Punjabi clothes. The dance starts with unified well-ordered movement to Haydn’s music. Then Puts’s Credo brings a confusion and lack of clarity, aggravation and confrontation masking any intention. The moves surge like electricity through the dancers’ bodies (are we coming to revelation?); stunning lifts leave strong impressions. Groups pose like Hindu gods and goddesses, watching over solo or duo dancers. The theme, Credo, runs through the ballet with repeated confirmation —listen, watch, feel your legs that root you on the ground, and keep seeking a credo, a belief, an aim. Neenan’s beautiful statement is a pure and beautiful breath of hope and peace.

The second piece in the program is the world premiere, On The Mysterious Properties of Light by R. Colby Damon. Inspired by the mundane yet miraculous qualities of light at a quantum level, the choreographer experiments with contemporary ballet by introducing some intriguing use of lightings, music, and technique. For example, an intense spotlight illuminates the front left from the right back of the stage diagonally in hazy smoke, or strobe-like lights freeze two dancers on the stage like a series of photos.

winter series 2017 balletx review
Richard Villaverde and Chloe Felesina in
Credo by Matthew Neenan. Photo by
Bill Hebert.

However, some of the music used in the ballet, such as a Japanese folk song with people’s laughing voices and a middle eastern music, confuses the focus upon light. The ballet finishes to the sound of Buddhist monks chanting vigorously. Although it is intriguing to see the dancers’ movement harmonize with the pitch, tone, and vibration of the voices, this raises questions. Is the choreography about more than the light? Still, it showcases the dancers’ skilled reactions and ability to get a grip on any genre of music or sound through their voices and movements.

The last piece of the program is another world premiere, The Letter by Jo Strømgren. From a stage of male and female dancers in long straight black hair, black jackets, and distressed jeans, a voice of young male narrates a story in the form of letters to a grandfather. A young man from some rural village has just landed in a city with dreams of becoming something big, a choreographer. He realizes that he has mistakenly taken luggage filled with his grandfather’s old records instead of his own modern collections and decides to try out the nostalgic folk/blues music for his dance. His “choreographing” movements begin as dancers laying on their stomach and spasming. Slowly, the art takes shape. Intentionally or unintentionally, it shows the choreographer’s belief in the art: What is needed to create something is merely passion and curiosity.

The long two weeks run includes a special performance on Valentine’s Day. [The Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street] February 10-19, 2017;

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