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Driven by questions about “nature versus nurture,” Nicolo Fonte composed a ballet, Beasts, that asked BalletX’s dancers to use their individuality to channel their primal human instinct. The dancers spent hours of creating, building, from the ground up, a ballet that had never been danced. From an idea to the performance, they were a part of it; it belongs to them. With every tendu, they have affected its creation, breathed life into its existence. They will never be compared to the cast before them, because before them, there was no cast.
A set of grand proportions spanned the width of the stage, serving as the canopy over the abyss from which the dancers emerged. Designed by Mimi Lien, the tilted canvas hovered over the dancers as they crawled on their bellies toward the audience. Costume designer Christine Darch created gender-neutral silver and black unitards, making the slithering dancers appear lizardlike. The wave patterns on the sides of the costume allowed their slinky head-tail action to effectively evoke the primal, the creature, the beast. With music from Patti Smith to Debussy, the musical mélange became a well-structured, cohesive score — its own accomplishment, in my experience.
On the transformed stage, Fonte’s choreography had a place to reveal itself. Impulse-oriented movements, manipulation of existing phrases, off-centeredness, body jerks, and broken lines served as the main framework from which Fonte would structure the two-act ballet Beasts.
An ensemble of unique dancers
Beasts, though created as an ensemble work, allowed each dancer to shine. From the restrained ferocity of Gary Jeter to the quick-moving exactness of Edgar Anido, Beasts allowed the dancers to texturize the movement vocabulary of Fonte with their uniqueness. Each of the ten dancers showed why artistic director Christine Cox is keen on versatility and diversity by bringing their technical and physical distinctiveness to the stage.
The small-framed Andrea Yorita was the perfect combination of strength and suppleness. She was fluidly angular and stayed grounded long enough for each transition to appear seamless. Chloe Felesina was fearless as a creature in Act 1 and violently flirtatious as a temptress in Act 2, cunningly refusing to spare the lives of her partners after mating.
But it was dancer Richard Villaverde whose endearing physicality left me wowed. A gentle juxtaposition between man and beast, Villaverde donned a black classical tutu to unleash a memorable solo that asked him to constantly live in a state of contradiction (man wearing a tutu, clear ballet lines intercepted with animate broken body positions, and his musculature attached to the languid adagio of classicism).
BalletX continues to add to the landscape of contemporary dance by their commitment to producing world premieres. Dancers and audience alike benefit; taking proprietorship over the material, the dancers are able to give honestly, while the audience receives a gift that cannot be found elsewhere.
What, When, Where
BalletX, Beasts. Nicolo Fonte, choreography; Mimi Lien, set design; Drew Billiau, lighting design. November 18-22, Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. balletx.org
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