REVIEW: Spring Renewal on Display at BalletX

by Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal | Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

Spring is the time of renewal. The sun brightens, the air freshens and we all tend to observe the world with a new positivity. Performing organizations tend to present work during this time that reflects this new freshness of spirit, and the Spring Series at BalletX presents a good example of what this renewed energy can bring to the stage.

For its Spring Series at the Wilma, BalletX presents a trifecta that honors the season: a company premier, a world premier, and a revived classic from the BalletX repertoire. All three pieces, while worlds different from each other in style and approach, share an invigorating quality appropriate for a time of renewal.

The opening piece was the company premiere of Cayetano Soto’s “Schachmatt” (German for “checkmate”). The piece opens with the company back-lit as the music conveys a feel of World War II France, a sense reinforced by costumes reminiscent of off-duty military uniforms of the era that had been re-conceptualized for a sexy Bob Fosse routine.

The choreographer’s brief program note says “I created this work to explore the relationship between my mind and my heart. It is a gem between reasoning and feeling.” If so, it’s a playful game indeed. The piece is episodic, with different configurations of the company displaying a lighthearted energy that, in some places, would not have been out of place in a swing club. It was certainly the most fun piece of the evening.

However, the  second segment was much more to my taste—the world premiere of Tommie-Waheed Evans’ “In Between the Passing…” Set to the somber music of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op.36 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), this was obviously a dramatic change of pace. The piece was moodier and more serious, with the dancers clad in the more modern dance-ish dark pants and tank tops. The choreography, while certainly reflective of Gorecki’s somber stately music, had its own purposeful energy. Presented in duets and other combinations, the company of dancers effectively expressed the emotions derived from separation and connection, mortality and survival, with very much a sense of taking a tour through Inferno or Purgatory. I don’t often like to make major pronouncements, but I came away feeling I had seen a major dramatic work.

The final segment of the evening is a revival of Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass.” Ballet X originally debuted this work in 2010, and it has been a regular part of the company’s touring repertoire since then, though this is the first time its been seen on the home stage since 2012. This piece has a very urban sensibility  , ranging from sassy to traditional, with colorful costumes and a sense of diversity. A highlight of the piece for me was the duet between a widow the ghost of her lost husband who brings her back to happiness. This piece certainly deserves to be kept alive as a Ballet X signature piece.

Ballet X presents its Spring Series 2017 through May 7 at the Wilma Theater, Broad & Pine Sts. For ticket information, call 215-546-7824 or visit balletx.org.