Philly Locales Inspire New BalletX Dance Films

Mariana Oliveira's "Saudade"

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

BalletX, persevering through the pandemic restrictions that have closed stages across the world, released three captivating dance films on Wednesday night. Above all, the films are a vehicle for BalletX to stay in touch with their fans. As company director Christine Cox said in a live streaming Q. and A. session, “We love you, we miss you. We’ll get through this and we’ll be together again.”

The films are available to watch through BalletX Beyond, the company’s subscription-based streaming platform. The plans are offered at “basic” and “plus” levels providing access to the films, as well as to more digital premieres later in the season along with interviews, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and other surprise programming.

The three new pieces are short and are not commensurate with an evening-length live dance concert, but they do allow an exciting opportunity for skilled choreographers, filmmakers, and dancers to collaborate on making dance films. BalletX brings its signature cutting-edge artistry and professional polish to these projects, diving into the unique possibilities of working in the medium of dance on camera.

The bossa nova flavored “Saudade,” choreographed and directed by Brazilian-born Mariana Oliveira, was filmed by Elliot deBruyn on location at the Stoneleigh historical house and garden in Villanova. Featuring dancers Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck, the black and white film (except for Yorita’s vivid red jacket) conveys a noirish, shadowy vibe.

At first, the camera zooms in on a dramatic duet, ripe with gorgeous balletic dancing, carried out under towering trees that seem to blot out the sky. The ensuing scenes cut back and forth between the mansion’s empty interior rooms and an outside patio, creating a compelling portrait of a pair of ill-fated lovers who haunt each other’s memories.

Choreography: Robbie Fairchild’s “The Cycle”
Dancer: Ashley Simpson
Filmmaker: Giacomo Belletti

In Robbie Fairchild’s ephemeral “The Cycle,” nine members of the company don’t do much dancing – rather, they aim to embody the idea of nature itself. The men are clothed in formal attire while the women are garbed in glamorous, gauzy dresses from Marchesa. Cavorting through picturesque locales at Longwood Gardens, they splash in pools of water and roll through grassy fields.

Filmmaker Giacomo Belletti keeps his camera low, shooting up at the dancers as sunlight filters artily down through the leaves overhead. In the film’s opening moments, close-up shots capture the dancers’ hands unfurling like growing seeds. Later, the entire ensemble is captured from afar – standing in a field in a circular formation – waving their limbs to the swelling strains of composer Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.”

Choreography: Amy Hall Garner’s “New Heights”
Dancers: BalletX
Filmmaker: Elliot deBruyn

The third film in the series, “New Heights,” choreographed and directed by Amy Hall Garner, jumps off the screen with kaleidoscopic energy. Elliot deBruyn, along with Nathaniel Brown, filmed the dancers – in solos, small groups, and full ensemble – dancing along with three different colorful murals scattered throughout the city (in partnership with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program).

In the Q. and A. session, Garner said her inspiration for the project came from the murals themselves: “They were another character. They have their own rhythm.” Romping to the groove of Spark’s “On the Dancefloor,” the dancers surge from scene to scene with contagious kinetic energy.

Garner explained that she worked with deBruyn to story-board the entire piece to ensure that her vision was clearly translated. The resulting film has a thrilling visual logic. When choreographers and filmmakers come together, it’s a whole new ballgame – and as Garner quipped, “magic can happen.”

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