The BalletX Choreographic Fellowship is in its second year, and once again it earns its reputation for nurturing new talent while presenting engaging works by established choreographers. The fellowship offers an up-and-coming choreographer the opportunity to create a new piece for the company, with advice from a more established mentor. Artistic and executive director Christine Cox selects the mentor based on years of experience and national presence. In particular, Cox seeks mentors with a track record of guiding the next generation.
This year, the fellowship panel, including Cox, associate artistic director Tara Keating, company co-founder Matthew Neenan, and expert dance advisors, selected local artist Tommie-Waheed Evans from an international pool of applicants.
I went into the performance hoping the hometown team would shine, and it did.
The evening opened with mentor Cayetano Soto’s Schachmatt (Checkmate), which he described in the program as exploring “the relationship between my mind and my heart.” It seemed the relationship involves the mind and a part located rather lower on the body. “Crotch-y,” my notes said, several times. It seemed to be a theme, but in a good way.
The dance began with the entire company taking the classic pose of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Chocolat,” made even more famous by Gene Kelly in An American in Paris. The costumes, shorts, Oxford shirts, and ties (all in grey, with a dark strip on the shorts), dark socks, and jockey caps (designed by Soto and Gudrun Schretzmeier, recreated for BalletX by Stephen Smith) were at once buttoned-up and saucy. The dancing was intricate but also really silly, in a rueful way that won over the audience. It was my favorite piece of the night.
Local talent shines
For a complete change of pace, choreographic fellow Tommie-Waheed Evans’s In Between the Passing painted a picture in movement of time and mortality. In the program, he cited the space between the physically present and the timeless world beyond the physical realm. Evans also said he was inspired by the work of digital artist Bill Viola. I don’t always see the connection between a choreographer’s inspiration and the work, but this was an “oh, yes” moment. The choreography didn’t mimic that art but seemed to evolve from it.
Backed by Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (op. 36), “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” the dance powerfully explored grief and loss. The curtain opened on a tower of dancers in Martha Chamberlain’s dark pants and simple tank tops. The dancers broke and combined, sometimes with mouths gaping in silent cries. For most of the piece, the physical communication between dancers, in pas des deux and other combinations, conveyed connection, separation, and sorrow, most exceptionally in Richard Villaverde and Roderick Phifer’s extended duet.
An old friend
After the 2012 performance of Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” with music by the band Beirut, I posted on Facebook that it was my favorite piece of the night. We haven’t seen it in Philadelphia since then, but it has been a staple of the company’s touring repertoire. During a pre-show discussion, Neenan said that, to keep things fresh, the dancers decided to change roles this year.
I love this company’s collaborative culture. Since BalletX must adapt to the dance vocabulary of a new choreographer every performance, trust came up over and over in the discussion. Often that means trusting the choreographer, but BalletX makes that a two-way street that includes the dancer, to our benefit.
In Martha Chamberlain’s well-calibrated motley costumes—board shorts, clamdiggers, tanks, and open shirts for the men and flirty skirts and frills for the women—Neenan’s Last Dance careened giddily between celebration and sorrow. Andrea Yorita, as the sad widow, in knickers with a frill at the knee, was a reminder of loss underlying the street pageant. Her duet with Daniel Mayo, as she wept and raged and he, the ghost of her lost husband, encouraged her to smile again, was the highlight of the piece.