It's all about movement

BalletX Summer program at the Wilma (1st review)

3 minute read
Keating (top), Prescott in 'Risk of Flight': Who needs a story line? (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.)
Keating (top), Prescott in 'Risk of Flight': Who needs a story line? (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev.)
BalletX celebrated its fifth anniversary with a program demonstrating just how sophisticated this small troupe of ten has become within a short time period. Utilizing the talents of visiting dancer/choreographer Matthew Prescott and repeat guest choreographer Adam Hougland as well as the ever-expanding skills of company co-artistic director Matthew Neenan, BalletX turned in a performance that legitimately deserved its huge ovation.

The program started late, for an excellent reason: A line at the box office of people still buying tickets.

Prescott's Journey of the Day opened with the stage drenched in blue light. Nine dancers moved to the crackling sound of Appalachian Journey from the string trio of Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor and Yo Yo Ma. This brisk music manages to merge classical and country, just as Prescott's movement blended square dance, a bit of Highland dancing and a hint of Balanchine.

As the dancers moved in abstract patterns across the stage, periodically a soloist or duo broke through. Laura Feig, Tara Keating, Anitra N. Keegan, Tobin Del Cuore and Ian Hussey were outstanding in an ensemble piece where each performer shone. At the end of the day, the dancers turned their backs on the audience and walked toward stage rear, which was drenched in blue light suddenly dotted with small bright gold lights; the day's journey was over and they were walking off stage into starlit twilight.

Like football players

Adam Hougland's Risk of Flight (2007) had a different feel and still looks brand new three years later. The avant garde cello music of Zoe Keating punctuates the movement with an occasionally menacing throb. The dancers are strung across the back of the stage in a darkly lit setting. Slowly, erratically, they move across the stage space to throbbing accompaniment, hunched forward like football players, intersecting mid-stage in slow motion or bursting into electrifying leaps and turns.

There was a sense of drama in this piece, although what the story line might be was left to the audience. Choreographer Matthew Prescott performed in this work, with Tara Keating as his perfect partner. Intriguingly, this outburst of sound and movement ends abruptly in silence.

Wiggly experiment

Matthew Neenan's new The Last Glass, for five couples, closed out the evening with the entire BalletX ensemble performing Neenan's choreography at its wiggy experimental best. This is a pure example of what has made Neenan such a successful choreographer, using complicated, challenging, emphatic popular music from a troupe called Beirut.

There were women wearing ruffled skirts, which just might be mistaken as ballet tutus, plus other women wearing toe shoes and occasionally going on pointe. Some dancers left the stage to lurk at the bottom of the theater steps. Were they taking a breath? Making a statement? Or simply inviting the audience to rethink their notions of dance movement?

While the tutu ladies circulated on stage, we saw dancers moving every which-way, some with bold strong moves and others in odd patterns, all to challenging and vigorous musical accompaniment. What should be pure mayhem turned into a dance both strikingly beautiful and amusing. The central pas de deux that punctuated this piece in odd moments was beautifully performed by Anitra Keegan and Matthew Prescott.

It was good to see Neenan being his movement funky self with the toe shoe ladies, the clowns, the super-focused odd performances and lively music, and no theme except to showcase how dance can make an audience member consider the many ways artists are able to express themselves in movement. No wonder people were lined up at the box office for tickets.♦

To read another review by Jim Rutter, click here.

What, When, Where

BalletX Summer Series: Prescott, Journey of the Day; Hougland, Risk of Flight; Neenan, The Last Glass. July 21-25, 2010 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. (at Spruce). (215) 546-7824 or

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