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BalletX Spring Series 2022
photo credit Vikki Sloviter

BalletX’s Spring Dances Bloom At The Mann

BalletX artistic director Christine Cox was in front of medium size, but very enthusiastic crowd at the Mann Center in Fairmount Park on May 18 to introduce the first of two performances of the company’s Spring concert series. Featured were premieres by choreographers Annabelle Lopes-Ochoa and Jennifer Archibald on a program with Matt Neenan’s 2013 ‘The Last Glass,’ by every measure, a signature work on the company.

Cox was also onstage to announce that the company is starting a three-year engagement as the resident dance company at the venue. As live performance audiences slowly return from industry shutdowns, Cox’s goal is to build new audiences on a larger stage.

An hour before the concert, there was already a festival performance atmosphere on the upper terrace of the amphitheater to the beats of the Motion & Music Drumline playing and kids from BX’s DanceXchange program showing they had the moves.

It was a gorgeous spring night, a calm breeze rustling through the trees as the sun went down, and the lights came up on stage for choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s ‘Midnight Circus’ scored to the scabrous circus orchestral by Manuel Wandji and Hugues Le Bars. Brandon Sterling Baker’s precision lighting and Mark Eric’s hot circus noir costumes enhanced the atmospherics.

Shawn Cusseaux delivers a riveting performance as the high-flying ringleader. Cusseaux is comic, tragic, and mocking as he orchestrates this troupe of dance tricksters. Meanwhile, a series of sensual duets and trios unfold with haunting elegance. Ochoa’s motif of ensemble chaos often ends in ensemble friezes creating dynamic stage pictures. 

Ochoa is a strong story ballet maker. Her adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’ was a massive hit at the Wilma Theater and The Joyce Theater in New York. “Midnight Circus’ is a little rough around the narrative edges but is just as choreographically captivating.

Next, Matt Neenan’s ‘The Last Glass’ has an urban Carnivale feel. It opens on a scene with the entire company in street clothes, in a group mosaic of suspended animation, except for Savanna Green and Skylar Lubin, upstage, in flouncy tutus rocking their hips like bored go-go dancers. 

Andrea Yorita halting crosses in front of the scene, alone and anguished, but things evolve when she accidentally bumps into Blake Krapels, and their tempestuous dance romance blooms. 

Scored to a song cycle by the alt-rock group Beirut’s Eastern European, instrumentals led by the baleful vocals of Zack Condon, Beirut evokes themes of human connection and loss in such songs as ‘The Penalty,’ A Sunday Smile,’ and ‘A Call to Arms.’ 

Neenan tells stories of the characters on stage with choreography that captures his liberated choreographic style. Twelve years after he created this ballet, it is as fresh as ever, and for a new generation of dancers, this ballet keeps giving. It was particularly impressive this time out, with several new company members performing it for the first time.

Canadian choreographer Jennifer Archibald’s ‘Exalt’ was the explosive concert closer. Its neoclassical ballet fusion with hardcore ‘House’ choreo took BalletX into choreographic territory that they proved more than ready for.

Archibald’s potent mix of ballet and the hottest club global idioms is set to a propulsive blend of throbbing global dance tracks. The shadowy lighting design by Brandon Baker of cobalt blues and lazar spotlights silhouetting the dancers in tandem with costume designer Olivia Mason’s leather kilts and bodices turned up the atmospheric heat.

Among the outstanding solo sections featuring Ashley Simpson flying over the stage with exquisite phrasing and breathtaking pointe work and Jonah Delgado in smoldering house moves just as captivating in its grounded virtuosity.

It is in the ensemble passages that Archibald carves out new choreographic ground, especially in the critical transitional phrases. Archibald builds to a finale packed with fast-moving lift sequences that looked a bit heavy going for the dancers but certainly understandable after a substantive evening of these three ballets.

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