By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal
I sat in the Wilma Theatre on Sunday eagerly awaiting the start of BalletX’s 2018 Summer Series. I was both excited and curious to see how the company would handle three different pieces, by three different choreographers. Works by Andrew McNicol (recipient of BalletX’s 2018 Choreographic Fellowship), Penny Saunders, and Matthew Neenan were to be featured as world premieres, all of which were created in Ballet X’s new home, the Center for World Premiere Choreography.
McNichol’s Requiem opened the performance featuring Mozart’s music by the same title. The piece was brilliantly executed by the company with an intense interpretation that matched the music and choreography. The work had sequences of strong physical and technical movements, interspersed with quieter moments of simple walks ending in striking tableaus. Featured dancer, Francesca Forcella, drew the audience into the story with her dramatic performance. Costumes designed by Mark Eric were simplistic while still capturing the feel of the piece.
Neenan’s Situated included pianist Martha Koeneman performing onstage with the company. This in itself was a treat. The piece had all the theatrical components one would expect from a work by Neenan. He found moments to be playful and quirky and other times to be bold and passionate. The curtain opened on the dancers lying on the floor against chairs. The use of the chairs was a major theme and the dancers seamlessly transitioned them to create different vignettes. The dancer’s also displayed excellent balance and control, which were necessary in order for the prop to not become a nuisance.
The program concluded with Saunder’s Rock-A-Bye, which immediately drew the audience in with its intriguing opening. Caili Quan danced in front of the curtain while the rest of the company performed with only their hands reaching out from under the curtain. As Quan turned upstage, the curtain lifted to invite us into a story about family and fate. Saunders set the scene using a large rug, a lamp, and stools. Also on stage was composer Rosie Langabeer with fellow musicians, Tara Middletown and Gregg Mervine. The music had a haunting quality achieved with vocals and common household items, such as a whisk and mixing bowl. Saunders highlighted different dancers which showcased the company nicely.
All three pieces emphasized the dancers as a solid and versatile contemporary ballet company. It was interesting to see the women in pointe shoes throughout the entire performance, performing movements that are typically seen executed barefooted or in soft shoes. Another common element between each work was the strong relationship between the music and choreography. Rather than feeling like just an accompaniment, the music was more like collaboration with the dance. Michael Korsch designed the lighting for all three pieces with striking results. I find the most rewarding dance programs to watch are when the music, choreography, and lighting all complement each other to enhance the performance. Ballet X’s Summer Series achieved this with great success.