BalletX Fall Series 2022
photo credit: Vikki Sloviter

BalletX Brings Tidings of Comfort and Joy

BalletX presented a wonderfully musical concert Wednesday evening at the opening performance of the company’s Fall Series at the Wilma Theater. Three new works by a diverse group of talented choreographers showcased the versatility, technical excellence, and engaging personalities of the company’s dancers.

There has been a great amount of turnover among BalletX’s male dancers this year, with only Shawn Cusseaux remaining from last year—and he is relatively new as well, having joined the company as a full member in 2021. Refined and expressive, Cusseaux danced central roles in all three of the program’s pieces. The evening provided a welcome opportunity to get to know the company’s four new full members, Jared Kelly, Annika Kuo, Jonathan Montepara, and Ben Schwarz—as well as new pre-professional fellows Eli Alford and Demetrious Reed.

Former BalletX dancer Caili Quan’s Love Letter, inspired by her upbringing in Guam, opened the program. The piece evoked the feeling of gentle tropical breezes and the comforts of being part of a tight-knit community. A mixed score of music from the Pacific conjured sounds of birds chirping and waves lapping, punctuated by a couple of lively songs by Harry Belafonte. Floaty blue skirts, designed by Christine Darch, added to the underlying ocean sway.

Playful rhythms and quirky gestures enlivened Quan’s choreography—allowing the dancers to express themselves with shoulder shrugs and hip bumps. They danced together as a community, emerging in various pairings to convey different kinds of personal relationships: parents and children, siblings, friends, and lovers. Love Letter concluded with Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” an infectious crowd-pleaser that gave the dancers an opportunity to shine.

The company has never looked better than it did in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Sacred Impermanence, which blended ballet technique with Moultrie’s original movement language. The piece was driven by a riveting conversation between the dance and music (a mixed score of selections by Prokofiev, Clara and Robert Schumann, Dirk Maassen, and Bill Evans). The dancers inhabited this lush soundscape with precision and attention to the smallest of textural details.

Costumed in tight, body-revealing shorts and tops designed by Mark Eric, five dancers—Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Savannah Green, Ben Schwartz, Ashley Simpson, and Andrea Yorita—grabbed immediate attention in an allegro passage inspired by Prokofiev’s musical notes flying by in an intricate composition. Cusseaux appeared in a through-line of solos that linked the musical sections together: His lush duet with Yorita was followed by a brief encounter with Forcella, which in turn led her into a contemplative solo.

The whole group reconvened for the final section, set to Evans’ “Peace Piece” for piano. They joined hands to form a line, pulling and pushing elastically, moving together like an organic organism. Ending by rolling imaginatively on the ground and coming to rest quietly flat on their backs, they settled into a state of peaceful contentment—luring the audience with them. New company member Schwarz fit beautifully in with the rest of the seasoned cast.

The evening’s final work, Become a Mountain, was choreographed by Justin Peck (resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet) for Juilliard’s Senior Class of 2022. Peck was inspired by the accomplishments of the students and where they were headed next, yet the piece speaks to the universal experience of reaching major goals in life.

Dan Deacon’s epic, three-part score, “Become a Mountain,” triggers an energetic response from BalletX’s full company of dancers, who fill the stage with exhilarating, swooping and swerving motion. The costumes, designed by Benjamin Burton, are pedestrian: sneaker-clad feet and pants and skirts worn interchangeably by all genders. Taking the audience with them on a journey, the fourteen dancers climb a metaphorical mountain, rejoice when they reach the top, and complete the final descent with confidence, ready to take on the challenges ahead.

With its Fall Series, BalletX continues its tradition of bringing stimulating new work by the most innovative choreographers from around the world to Philadelphia dance audiences. There’s still time to catch the company’s Fall Series, which runs through December 4th. 

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