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With BalletX, decay can in fact be beautiful


By Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

In less capable hands, the combination of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, two seventy-something dancers and a feisty contemporary ballet company might have been a recipe for disaster. But under the careful guidance of guest choreographer Nicolo Fonte, BalletX’s first evening-length ballet, Beautiful Decay, was everything its title promised and more.

Taking its cue from a series of 3-D photographs by Mark Golebiowski, which depicts a number of dead-but-still-alive flowers, the work juxtaposes the young dancers of BalletX with Philadelphia’s own Brigitta Herrmann and Manfred Fischbeck, co-founders of Group Motion Dance.  In doing so, Beautiful Decay is not only an evening of explosive, athletic dance that leaves the audience speechless after just the first act, but also a witty and sophisticated meditation on the passing of time.

Mimi Len’s geometric yet delicate set design, comprised of five large arches, divides the stage into four small “rooms.”  The low overhead and multiple doorways heighten the drama of Fonte’s chorography as the dancers lunge and leap from one “room” to another like tightly wound springs bursting from their containers.

The arches above their heads are white and see-through, perhaps in reference to the cobwebs of neglect and old age or the promise of the pearly gates.  But they’re so large and crisp in angular framework that they achieve ethereality without being cartoonish.

Matha Chamberlain deserves recognition for her costume designs as well.  In the first act, the dancers of BalletX wear jewel-toned velvet, reminiscent of baroque Europe, while Hermmann wears a long floral dress to Fischbeck’s simple black suit.  In the second act, the younger dancers shed their sumptuous duds for simple frocks and suits, then shed these for black socks, black shorts and white undershirts.  The overall impression is somewhat disjointed, especially with half of the company undressed and in pointe shoes while the rest remain fully clothed, but it reflects the individualism of Fonte’s second act choreography.

With such an iconic piece of music, there’s bound to be some disappointment, but Fonte’s treatment of the familiar Vivaldi score is so unexpected that we’re left feeling surprised and enchanted instead of let down.  Rather than mimicking the ebbs and flows of each movement, Fonte allows the introduction to speak for itself—there are no dancers and no lights, only music.  The dancing begins with two simultaneous duets and builds into a series of vignettes.

As “spring” arrives, the dancers run full speed through Len’s set.  The men of the company perform a short quintet that’s part zombie, park pop and lock as their larger than life shadows engulf the stage.  In an unusual pairing, Chloe Felesina joins Fischbeck onstage wearing a single pointe shoe.  He cradles her head and she his as they slowly make their way across the stage.

In another particularly poignant moment, Hermann taps her foot slowly, as if keeping time.  A few feet to her right, dancer Alison Walsh taps her foot as well, but she taps in double time, impatiently willing time to pass.  William Cannon and Andrea Yorita also stand out, performing even the largest and most exuberant of Fonte’s movement with precision.

The ballet closed to a well deserved standing ovation, proving that with BalletX, decay can in fact be beautiful.

- 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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