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Review: BalletX

Photo credit: Iziliaev

Here is what I love about BalletX: when you arrive at the Wilma Theater, they’re just wrapping up a Q&A with the choreographers and welcoming the Andrew Jackson Public School Band into the lobby.  The evening’s program features one choreographer from Rome and two from our own backyard, plus an assortment of musicians to spice things up between works.   And the dancing?  Oh yeah, that’s great too.

If it sounds like a circus, that’s because it is.  But it’s the good kind of circus, the kind where you want to grab a drink with the ringmasters and talk philosophy with the choreographers.  Last night’s program included two world premiers, Instant God choreographed by Mauro Astolfi and I Was at a Party & My Mind Wandered Off… by Kate Watson-Wallace, in addition to the east coast premier of Neenan’s Switch Phase.   Although incredibly varied in their phrasing and definitions of “good” dance, each offered a unique glimpse into the world of relationships and the complex ways in which we interact with one another.

Instant God was spellbinding from the opening sequence, which found one dancer writhing on the floor, to its dramatic conclusion, in which that single, supine figure was pulled back beneath the curtain by a dozen bodiless hands.  Inspired by Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, the work used simple motifs and unexpected, intentionally unromantic partnering to explore themes of gratification and unity.  As gods, the dancers were ravenous—more vultures than angels—and under Mauro’s direction, they were hauntingly passive at some moments and beautifully active at others.

Kate Watson-Wallace’s contribution to the evening was, as the title would suggest, a bit rambling.  There were moments of clear, almost cinematic episodes that felt somehow more curatorial than choreographic.  Three dancers dressed in white suits walked onstage then swung their hair from side to side.  They undressed one another, they panted like dogs and they even sang, breaking the sacred fourth wall and making me wonder for a moment if I was at the theater instead of the ballet.  But that’s Watson-Wallace for you.  I longed for a relationship between the music and the dance, especially in the beginning of the piece, but by the end, as the dancers erupted into a fist pumping frenzy, I couldn’t help but smile.  Suddenly, we had all rejoined the party.

Neenan’s Switch Phase was a curious blend of buoyant ballet technique and more a visceral, folksy mating ritual.  In warm, bright tones and flowing dresses, the dancers paired off into a series of long duets.  In one, a dancer bent her leg from an arabesque into and attitude before hooking it around her partner’s head.  In another, Colby Damon performed a parenthetical solo forcing us to shift our focus from the happy couple.  Throughout it all, William Cannon and Allison Walsh were superb and the work showed the company’s technical training at its finest.  Although Switch Phase lacked the emotional depth I’ve come to love in Neenan’s work, the program left me eager to see what else BalletX has to offer this season.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist with an MA in Dance Anthropology.  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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  1. Anonymous says:

    Kat, I agree with on many of your points. I left the Wilma feeling enraged, bored, and alienated after witnessing the Watson-Wallace piece. It was a complete waste of the dancers’ abilities. Neenan to me was the only choreographer on the bill who knew how to work with the dancers. I am so disappointed that Ballet X wasted their time with the so called “Philly dance it girl”. The work was a string of inside jokes and glorification of partying. It was a trite piece of post-modern vomit that really lacked freshness. It was just old, sad, and frumpy and un-sexy while trying too hard.

  2. Jessica Noel says:

    I disagree with the Anonymous comment above. I saw the Watson-Wallace piece last night at the Wilma, and had the complete opposite reaction. At first, yes, I will admit I questioned where it was going. But when the dancers began the acapella harmony of Robyn’s “Hang With Me”, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I applaud Watson-Wallace for her bravery and clear vision of the evolution of the piece; she knew exactly what she was doing and where she was going. She took us all on an interesting journey, and her music selections were fresh and relevant. Bravo!

  3. Anonymous says:

    How is pretentious, over-produced, over-played party music by twee, white-washed skinny people fresh and relevant?