Through this virtual season I have asked myself: Would this work on the stage, or is it entirely dependent on the camera? Fortunately, with the latest installment of BalletX Beyond’s subscription streaming premieres, there is no wrong answer.
Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s amuse-bouche, Hernando's Hideaway, set to the Ross and Adler standard, could easily make its way to the stage with just a backdrop to evoke the luxurious Glen Foerd mansion setting.
In the zany tango, dancers Zachary Kapeluck, Blake Krapels, and Richard Villaverde, wearing high-waisted black pants and white shirts, mug for the unseen audience as they mock-swag through the mansion like a trio of lotharios. In a dance that clocks in under three minutes, the switch to red shirts and the Plays and Players stage added little other than to provide the murky atmosphere described by the song, but it was all silly fun and a joy to watch.
Maddie Hanson’s Virtuality exists only in the world of the camera. The solo dance begins when Ashley Simpson, wearing jeans and a snug tee, puts on a pair of virtual reality goggles. Suddenly she is transported from the reality of the spare brick and hardwood of Formation Health and Wellness spa, standing in for a loft apartment, to a flat image of the seats at Plays and Players.
The film glitches, and Simpson is sitting in the theater, in white pants and jacket. The image blurs as she moves; it breaks up, and she is suddenly on the stage. Hanson’s choreography combines hip hop with an architectural style that gives filmmaker Jorge Cousineau space to work his special-effects magic. He captures the movement in multiple trailing exposures. Simpson, in the VR goggles, watches over her own shoulder from the corner of a shot. The scene moves between the spa and the stage just often enough to remind us where we “really” are, and original music by Jack Frerer enhances the techno-world effect. It’s a fascinating piece, almost vertiginous in its effect, as if we, too, have entered the virtual world of the theater.
Her Blood a Wild River
Hernando’s Hideaway and Virtuality put setting and camera effect to good use, but neither reaches even four minutes in length, so Stephanie Martinez’s Her Blood a Wild River was a welcome deeper dive into telling a story. In an interview streamed before the performance, Martinez said that artistic and executive director Christine Cox asked her for a short piece that examined her Mexican Indigenous heritage. She hesitated, but the mural arts’ Sanctuary City, Sanctuary Neighborhood (by Artists Betsy Casañas & Ian Pierce) inspired her. The mural portrays a woman with all the life of the community bursting from the flowers in her hair.
The dance takes us from the reality of the Fairhill streets to the fantastical vision of the mural. Richard Villaverde glides through the streets, hips and shoulders moving with languorous sensuality to Bonga’s mournful song of loss, Mona Ki Ngi Xica. He sees Skyler Lubin in front of the Sanctuary mural and suddenly we are transported into that world. The women of the company wear long black dresses, a softer, dancier version of Doc Martens, and huge head-pieces of flowers. They move with angular power, all contraction. Feet seem to dig in, legs wide, as if they are birthing the very ground they walk on. The camera dances along, with powerful sweeps that take in the mural and invite us to enter the magical world.
A duet with Lubin and Villarde on a park bench gives the reality of a relationship at war, set not to music but to Denice Frohman’s spoken poem, A Woman’s Place. (The title of the piece is a line from the poem.) The scene ends with the couple side by side at last, each with their arm raised in unison. But as the credits roll, Villaverde is master of the walk again, lit by the rosy glow of the streetlights, with the sensual longing of Bonga’s music to follow him home.
My only disappointment of the evening was the absence of Stanley Glover and Roderick Phifer. Glover will return soon, but Phifer has left the company. He will be missed.
Image description: Dancer Francesca Forcella is shown from the waist up wearing a black top with thin shoulder straps. She has a large, elaborate headdress of greenery and orange, pink, and red flowers. She stands outside in front of a brick wall painted red. She is unsmiling, her jaw is slightly set, and she gazes directly at the viewer of the image.
What, When, Where
BalletX presents three world premieres of dance filmed as part of the BalletX Beyond series, available to stream through August 2021. Subscription options available at www.balletx.org/join-balletx-beyond.