FALL SERIES 2018 (BalletX): Three varied, compelling world premieres

 (L to R) Stanley Glover and Roderick Phifer in "Yonder: a skype ballet" by choreographer Wubkje Kuindersma. Photo by: Vikki Sloviter.
(L to R) Stanley Glover and Roderick Phifer in “Yonder: a skype ballet” by choreographer Wubkje Kuindersma.
Photo by: Vikki Sloviter.

Fans of contemporary ballet are blessed to have BalletX here in Philadelphia. The company’s current season, which gets underway this week with a two-week run at the Wilma Theater, includes seven world premiere choreographies by an international roster of performers. The program of BalletX’s Fall Series feature three world premieres, by Cayetano Soto (Spain), Wubkje Kuindersma (Netherlands), and Marguerita Donlon (Ireland). Although they illustrate three distinct styles, the new works combine for a brilliantly varied evening of ballet with moments of grace, humor, tragedy, and hope.

The highlight of the program comes with the final piece, a playful 10-dancer work by Cayetano Soto. BalletX has presented Soto’s work several times over previous seasons, including an enthralling reprise of his “Malasangre” at last year’s Annenberg Center run. His funny, expressive style fits the company well, intermixing graceful elegance with peculiar playful movements, set to varied musical accompaniment.

“Napoleon/Napoleon” sees dancers enter on tricycles and circle the stage in a joyful choreography. Several moments spark enthused laughter, but Soto uses his humor to provide a serious satire of imperialism. He tweaks military-style costumes and movements and mocks power with one dancer babbling through a megaphone. It’s a wonderfully iconoclastic piece fitting for our time.

The program begins with “Yonder: a skype ballet”, a visually stunning work by Dutch choreographer Wubkje Kuindersma, enhanced by excellent lighting design by Mark Stanley. The work’s subtitle gives away its beginnings: visa problems led to choreography starting via internet video. This is little evident in the finished work, which makes full use of the whole stage.

Stellar dancer Francesca Forcella enters dressed in a striking blue dress, parading past a background of grey-frocked fellow-dancers behind a black curtain of beads. The first section culminates in a duet, including an impressive moment when Forcella pushes her partner through the curtain. Costumes by Christine Darch play a key role in the piece. Dancers return in blue tints, complex individual choreography giving way to form a mass of bodies, from which individual performers drip away in a stunning organic movement.


 Marguerite Donlon's "The Last Lifeboat". Pictured:  Skyler Lubin and Richard Villaverd.  Photo by Vikki Sloviter.
Marguerite Donlon’s “The Last Lifeboat”. Pictured: Skyler Lubin and Richard Villaverd.
Photo by Vikki Sloviter.

The final section of “Yonder” features less interesting choreography, but the most affectingly communicative moments of the evening. To Antony and The Johnston’s haunting, stripped-down version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the company of dancers gradually form one body. We cannot escape our society, Kuindersma seems to say, let’s imagine it being the best it can be.

Marguerita Donlon’s contribution fits her Irish nationality and BalletX’s American production. “The Last Lifeboat” plays like a short-story version of a classical full-length storytelling ballet, relating a true-life tale from Donlon’s family history. Her great aunt escaped from the Titanic thanks to the heroism of a young man.

To original, Celtic-tinged music by Dirk Haubrich, Chloe Perkes and Zachery Kapeluck embody the couple, a duet that contains moments of panic, foreboding, and hope. Supporting three large wooden panels, background dancers play the sea and boats, with potential of disaster or of salvation.

Together, the three works are a testament to the skills of the BalletX dancers, the taste and confidence of the company’s directors, and the abilities of new generations of ballet choreographers.

[BalletX at the Wilma Theater] November 28-December 9, 2018balletx.org

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