While I had been encouraged several times by my Ballet III teacher to go see BalletX in Philly over the course of several semesters, it never ended up happening. So of course, when BalletX arrived at Swarthmore, I had to go see what all the excitement was about. What I found was equally exciting and enjoyable: BalletX is ballet for the 21st century. It embodies everything I love about ballet and puts it in an engaging, relevant context, but is still allowed to explore new terrain.
BalletX was founded in 2005 by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan to challenge “the boundaries of classical ballet by encouraging formal experimentation while preserving rigorous technique.” Now they are a world-class company that has performed at prestigious locations such as The Joyce Theater in New York City and the Vail International Dance Festival.
On Friday evening, BalletX performed a selection of their repertoire to a packed LPAC Theater. Each of the four pieces exhibited cohesive choreography executed with incredible energy, emotion and athleticism by the dancers. You might be surprised to count only ten dancers among the ranks of Ballet X because their movement fills the stage so well. Their ability to convey emotions and story through dance results in a performance that is relatable for dancers and non-dancers alike.
The first piece, “Slump” by Joshua L. Peugh, is hilarious. While watching it, I smiled constantly. The audience burst out into laughter when a dancer was slapped on the back and comically puffed feathers out of his mouth. In this piece the dancers portray the honest, awkward, exciting process of love and courtship. It is set to fun jazz and mambo music that, especially with the women’s swishy skirts, made me want to get up and dance. Incredibly, the choreography manages to be authentic and loose, yet rigorously balletic. That balance seems to be the common theme of BalletX that makes their performance so enjoyable to watch.
The second piece, “It’s Not A Cry” by Amy Seiwert, is incredibly beautiful and my favorite of the four. Two dancers, one woman and one man, take the stage together for a snapshot of love set to the hauntingly beautiful music of “Hallelujah”. To me, this piece embodies the strength and vulnerability that is exposed in a close relationship between two people. The connection between the dancers Chloe Felesina and Richard Villaverde was so visibly forceful yet gentle, that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. They were able to easily slide between flowing, organic motion and precise technical ballet, which heightened the visual satisfaction of the dance. The partnering in this piece was also amazingly dynamic, with lifts that would never exist in purely classical ballet.
The third piece, “Risk of Flight” by Adam Hougland, has a definite sense of movement. It begins with a spotlight at the bottom left corner of the stage, from which the dancers walk away slowly, establishing a feeling of forward motion across the stage for the entire piece. The choreography throughout feels like it’s traveling and pushing forward. The dancers make you feel busy, rolling, caught up. Then, one dancer stops and becomes aware of the others moving blindly past, but can’t stop them. This piece also contained an intense pas de deux in which the dancers shifted between hurting, uncertainty, tension and paralysis. This is all set to the music of droning strings, so it is additionally impressive to watch them keep the rhythm and story going with so little musical context. This piece fades to black in the middle of a movement, making it feel like a movie stopped in the middle of something big but not really important. It leaves you with a sense of urgency to reflect.
The fourth and final piece, “The Last Glass” by Matthew Neenan, contains the most storytelling of all the pieces. Throughout this piece, five couples’ stories intertwine and unfold through partnering and patterns that are combined in a variety of ways. The music (from the American indie-rock band Beirut) and dancing gradually escalates to a bustling, energetic scene. We watch a woman suffer when her partner cheats on her. We see a man coax a woman out of her loneliness, only for the woman to remain unwilling to join the larger camaraderie. We witness a couple that is very reserved in public come to life when they share the stage alone. All these stories and others are set to bright, changing backdrop colors that seem to signify the variety of vignettes.
My impression of BalletX involves pure enjoyment of the original choreography, but also amazement at these incredible, athletic dancers. In case you missed it, BalletX performs regularly in Philadelphia. Watching them perform is a fun, beautiful experience that I strongly recommend for everyone regardless of dance experience.
About the author: Gabriela has 14 years of classical ballet training, including four years as a pre-professional company member at Pacific Ballet Academy in Mountain View, CA. She has performed excerpts from The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, La Bayadere and Les Sylphides, and has learned countless other ballet variations in her time as a dancer. She continues to dance at Swarthmore through Ballet III and the Swing Dance club, and hopes to perform with the Ballet Repertoire class or Terpsichore in the near future.