Ballet X’s Fall Series, featuring distinct pieces of work by three separate choreographers, showcased the company’s signature contemporary flair, its penchant for the experimental, and its willingness to push the expectations of a classical ballet performance.
Matthew Neenan’s Increasing viscerally represented musical structure of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, performed live by alumni from the Curtis Institute of Music. A conversation between the dancers and the music ensued. The dancers actually embodied the notes and sounds of the instruments instead of merely accompanying the music. The dancers’ movements in speed, size, and interactions with others corresponded to the pace, volume, and complexity of the music. If a form of synesthesia exists in which a person perceives moving shapes upon hearing music, this dance might best represent that experience.
Olivier Wevers’s Instantly Bound proved that conceptual dance can be just as political as it is artful. The dance was, in the words of Wevers, “inspired by loss — but also the birth of accidental community formed by the people who have been touched by such tragedy.” The tragedy in this case was gun violence, a particularly poignant theme given the times.
The dance communicated the urgency, agony, and confusion of an event, its immediate impact, and its aftermath through choreography filled with creative weight-bearing in which dancers would lift, push, and find themselves entangled with one another as they moved in and out of shadows cast by a single spotlight. This partner work, along with repeated gestures like holding hands to foreheads and biting wrists, emphasized physical and emotional actions and reactions. Throughout much of the dance, most of the dancers stood still, gathered around the moving dancers in reverie, introspection, or perhaps shock.
The world premiere of Jorma Elo’s Gran Partita capped things off with a playful, organic piece that solidified Ballet X’s ability to stretch its gracefully athletic limbs (both literally and figuratively) in the creation of fresh movement. This piece was unpredictable, as the lighting, emotional register, and music shifted frequently. The choreography incorporated exercises from yoga, as the dancers held backbends, planks, and warrior poses, and even movement from what looked to be cheerleading: The dancers tossed one another in the air with abandon. Through the piece, the dancers demonstrated obvious chemistry in the ways their bodies activated the space and one another.
The pieces exhibited in Fall Series made it clear that the dances by Ballet X are not products so much as they are evidence of direct engagement with the process of creative discovery. The pieces are rough around the edges, daring, spirited, and so much fun. Movements are not bound to the laws of classical ballet, but the dancers and choreographers are well enough versed in classical vocabulary to skillfully dismantle and rearrange the steps and postures.
Here, the dancing looks beautiful but not effortless. You can hear the thuds when the dancers land leaps and jumps. The female dancers don’t wear pointe shoes and don’t pin their hair in top buns. No one is afraid if moves or expressions are a little weird. The resulting ballet is not pretentious, uptight, or otherworldly, but rather as lively as the real people making it possible.
Above Right: Jorma Elo’s Gran Partita (photo by Alexander Iziliaev)