Summer Series 2017 (BalletX): The beauty of human movement


Dancers: (featured) Francesca Forcella leaps in Beautiful Once by Jodie Gates. Photo credit: Bill Hebert
Francesca Forcella leaps in Beautiful Once by Jodie Gates. Photo credit: Bill Hebert

BalletX, Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet, closes their season with a Summer Series July 12-16, 2017, at the Prince Theater.  The evening-length performance balances the beauty of human movement with the rawness of everyday life.

The evening starts with a restaging of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s 2011 Castrati, a piece that examines the lives of castrated singers during the 16th-18th centuries in Spain and Italy. Under harsh fluorescent laboratory lighting, the seven last remaining Castrati live out their days where every act is a performance – a reality that is not lost on the artists as even their most awkward movements are on display for the amusement and entertainment of others.

The vibrant costumes, designed by Aviad Arik Herman –a dancer with Gothenburg Opera Ballet—evoke a sense of playfulness, sensuality, and comedy with their masquerade masks and dramatic makeup.  The piece, overall, is wildly beautiful in its demonstration of sacrifice for art (albeit involuntary sacrifice) and its examination of the expectations society has for performers to achieve unnatural perfection.  

The next piece of the Summer Series is a world premiere by BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan. Titled Let Mortal Tongues Awake, the performance is part theatrical, part a capella vocals, and all beautifully danced. As the lights come up, dancers are standing off to each side of the proscenium on both a raised platform and stage level. “Hey!” two yell to each other, gaining the audiences attention.

As the action unfolds, dancers in cut up suits wearing flesh padding –a distended gut, an oversized tricep—pair off.  One wears a very long, red tie (perhaps a Trump reference?).   The choreography and its execution were on point and fascinating to watch given the costuming: imagine Quasimodo dancing a delicate ballet.

About halfway through, two dancers begin to sing a unique version of My Country Tis of Thee, without accompanying music, showcasing the many talents of the BalletX company members.

The evening culminates in another new work – this one by Jodie Gates, Director and Vice Dean of USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (and former Principal Dancer with Joffrey Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet), marks her third world premiere on the company. Gates’ Beautiful Once differs from the first two pieces in its usage of more classical ballet. The piece confirms what Gates’ writes in the program: that this “work is in honor of community, inclusion, and divine resilience.” The viewer is left with an uplifting feeling, and sense of togetherness (and, perhaps, a personal desire to reenact the “hug scene”).

[Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street] July 12-16, 2017;,

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