by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Tara Keating
On Wednesday evening, almost one year to the day since the W.H.O. declared the coronavirus pandemic, BalletX premiered three new dance films – a slate of winners that succeed in reinforcing the bond between the company and its fans. Although theaters remain darkened, the dance goes on.
VIRTUALITY stars new BalletX company member Ashley Simpson, whose sky-high leg extensions and lucid dancing are effectively employed in this teaser for the day when dancers and audiences will convene again in theaters. Simpson dons a virtual reality headset that transports her to the stage of Plays & Players Theatre, and we sense both the hesitation and the joy that will surely accompany all of us as we move from isolation back into our normal communal spaces. Choreographer Maddie Hanson and filmmaker Jorge Cousineau (winner of several Philadelphia Barrymore Awards) have created a seductive work that organically uses the “dance film” medium to speak to the moment. VIRTUALITY is only five minutes long – but it’s five minutes of magic.
The campy three-minute film Hernando’s Hideaway provides another tantalizing sneak peek at BalletX back in the theater. Cinematographers Elliot deBruyn and Nathaniel Brown blend together images of Richard Villaverde, Blake Krapels, and Zachary Kapeluck romping through the rooms at the Glen Foerd Mansion with shots of them dancing on stage at the Plays & Players Theatre. The trio of dancers (smartly attired in costumes by Mark Eric) lip-synch the lyrics of the title song by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, while flawlessly executing the Flamenco-flavored choreography of Gustavo Ramírez Sansono. The song lyrics sum it up: “All you see are silhouettes, and all you hear are castanets, and no one cares how late it gets…Olé!”
Choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s Her Blood a Wild River is a magnificent vehicle for the company’s six women. Wearing black dresses, combat boots, and colorful flower headdresses (designed by Mark Eric and inspired by artists Betsy Casañas’ and Ian Pierce’s mural “Sanctuary City, Sanctuary Neighborhood”), they dance as a group on a sidewalk and street located in Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood. Filmed by DeBruyn and Brown, the 10-minute piece takes the time to develop a satisfying narrative.
Through the eyes of dancer Villaverde, we encounter the mural and the women who seem to spring to life from it. Strong and grounded, they undulate to the beat of Bonga’s “Mona Ki Ngi Xica” – and their kinetic energy jumps across the divide from screen to the home audience: a rare triumph in today’s digital world. It’s a feast for the senses to behold BalletX’s entire female contingent, Francesca Forcella, Savannah Green, Skyler Lubin, Chloe Perkes, Ashley Simpson, and Andrea Yorita, dancing together again in Her Blood a Wild River.
The three short films received their premiere screenings on March 10th, but are accessible for streaming anytime with a subscription to BalletX Beyond, available in two plans at: www.BalletX.org/Beyond