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Review: BalletX Marks the Spot

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
photograph by Bill Hebert

If you haven’t scored your tickets to BalletX’s summer series, which runs until July 15th at the Wilma Theater and features the work of choreographers Tobin Del Cuore, Adam Houghland and Darrell Grand Moultrie, do it.  Now.

As a dance critic, teacher and practitioner, I see a lot of dance.  Some good, some bad and some just bizarre; when I found myself faced with the last of these, I come home wondering “How the heck am I going to write about that?”  But that’s the great thing about living in a city like Philadelphia.  There really is something for everyone and even though the quality of dance on offer is as varied as the bodies on display, every once in a while something clicks and I’ll find myself face to face with a little nugget of choreographic of genius.

It’s happened four times for me this year: Bolero by Roni Koresh, CITY by the Hungarian dance collective BLOOM!, The Last Glass by BalletX Co-founder Matthew Neenan and now Mashup by Adam Houghland.  Set to Big Daddy covers of pop standards like “Super Freak,” “Whip It” and “Like a Virgin,” Mashup is zany from the start.  Five dancers slump together on a couch and fall in and out of sleep in time to the music.  The women, Tara Keating and Jaime Lennon, are dressed to the nines, Keating as a dominatrix and Lennon as a stuffy, 1950s virgin but the men, especially BalletX veteran Colby Damon and Willy Laury, nearly steal the show with their nerd/bad boy antics.

Houghland mixes classic vocabulary and partnering with quirky nods to tap and a petit allegro hoedown to “The Rose;” the result is silly, irreverent and completely brilliant all at the same time.  His choreography, in fact, strikes me as the perfect way to introduce non-theatre goers to the world of classical ballet— if of course classical ballet involves fishnets, riding crops and sexy high heeled boots, which in this case it does.

Del Cuore’s Beside Myself is also strong especially the male duet in which Laury and William Cannon enter as hoodie-wearing head bangers, only to melt into a slow, sustained grand plie that swings shut like a garden gate.  Moultrie’s Differences in Sections, which concludes the evening, started off slow but gained momentum with Allison Walsh’s solo in which she plunges again and again to floor as if grappling with a host of unseen demons.  The female quartet was also engaging, with the dancers slapping their thighs to accent the music, and there is a picture-perfect moment in which the dancers push up from their backs into a bridge, extending their legs in a series of parallel diagonals.

Previously, the costume designs of former Pennsylvania Ballet star Martha Chamberlain had left me feeling rather underwhelmed but that changed last night: her retro duds were spot on for Mashup and the transition from a nude palette at the start of Differences in Sections to a rainbow of teals, cranberries and tangerines by its end made for a lovely conclusion to an eclectic evening.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

- Kat Richter

Kat Richter is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer and professor of anthropology. She specializes in travel writing, dance criticism, personal essays, humor and relationship advice.

Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, Dance Magazine, Museum and Skirt! and she has been featured on Good Morning America, HuffPost Live and in Marie Claire Magazine.

Kat Richter is Co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia's only all-female rhythm tap company.

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