BalletX kicked off the New Year with a pair of concerts on January 8th and 9th, presented in partnership with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, at the Perelman Theater. Performing together with the New York based Calidore String Quarter, BalletX brought down the house with two musically lush, pure dance pieces choreographed by the company’s co-founder (together with Christine Cox) and frequent choreographer, Matthew Neenan. Despite the on-going challenges of the coronavirus pandemic which forced last-minute cast changes, the company looked wonderful – incorporating several new members into their crew of stirring dancers.
The program consisted of back-and-forth numbers with the Calidore group: the Quartet first playing Franz Schubert’s Quartettsatz, D. 703 on their own, seated center stage; and then moving into the background to share the stage with BalletX for Credo. The piece premiered in 2016 at the Vail International Dance Festival, and was inspired by Neenan’s reflections on his travel experiences in India.
Credo builds on gestural movement to suggest a crowd of people traveling with purpose through their busy lives. Neenan’s choreography keeps the dancers moving, yet they always seem to find a stillness amidst the rush. The costumes (jumpsuits with flowing silk scarves in serene colors designed by Reid & Harriet) and the warm lighting devised by Mark Stanley contribute to the meditative atmosphere. Most of all, the music, with sections written by Kevin Puts and Joseph Haydn and dramatically played by the Calidore Quartet, combines with the dancers’ increasingly expansive movement to generate a feeling of spiritual optimism.
BalletX has added a number of new dancers over the past two seasons, and due to the limited pandemic performance schedule, there has been little opportunity to see them in action on the stage. As expected with this company that revels in variety, the new cadre are a diverse group with distinct physiques and personalities. In Credo, new company member Jonah Delgado made a strong impression in his animated solo passages. It was also exciting to see new connections being made in a superb duet for veteran Skyler Lubin and fresh recruit Pete Leo Walker.
Following an intermission, the Calidore Quartet moved to centerstage once more to perform Breathing Statues, a 2020 piece composed by Anna Clyne; followed by the evening’s high point, Increasing, choreographed by Neenan in 2014 and set to the first movement of Schubert’s masterful String Quintet in C Major. The Calidore musicians were joined by special guest Zlatomir Fung to give voice to the extra cello role featured in the score.
Increasing is one of Neenan’s most delightful works, a kinetic dance that’s as fluid as Schubert’s music. In counterpoint to the score, the movement emphasizes playful exclamations executed in contrast to the structure of the music: there is an exuberant recurring motif of one dancer bursting unexpectedly through the others to take over stage for her or himself. Neenan has a keen sense of the dramatic qualities of spatial patterns; the dance is formally complex – with solos, duos and larger groups seeming to coalesce and then dissolve out of thin air.
Increasing shows off BalletX’s fresh approach to classical ballet. The dancers are clad in unfussy costumes designed by Carol Divet (plain short dresses for the women and dark pants and purple T-shirts for the men), allowing their unpretentious dance chops to shine through. Bravo BalletX – and thank you for the joyous welcome to 2022!