I’ve been fully vaxxed for a few weeks now, and I’ve watched the vaccination rate rise in Philly, so when I learned BalletX would perform live on the grounds of Glen Foerd, I had to be there.
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the Torresdale section of the city, Glen Foerd is one of Philadelphia’s hidden gems on the Delaware River, with acres of park surrounding a mansion open to the public. The setting was outdoors, and the audience was small and required to wear masks throughout the performance. And we’d have access to tour the mansion after hours. It was the perfect opportunity to leave my pandemic-imposed isolation and return to the land of the living arts.
To Rend, to Render
The mansion was fascinating, but we show up for the dancing, and BalletX delivered. The program featured a piece that the company’s 2021 choreographic fellow, Alia Kache, created under the mentorship of Dwight Rhoden, whose piece will appear as part of the company’s summer program. The fellowship gives audiences an early look at up-and-coming choreographers.
Kache’s To Rend, to Render delivered a frothy bricolage in pink, the dancers in satin vests and pants or tulle skirts by costume designer Martha Chamberlain. As the dance opened, the company gathered at the center of the dance floor and struck a cabaret pose. The dance was angular and sassy, with occasional flights of whimsical classicism, including a bit that recalled the dance of the little swans from Swan Lake, but with the men and the women of the company providing wildly mismatched swans. As the dance progressed, the finery fell away and a duet by Richard Villaverde and Skyler Lubin interrupted the playfulness with melancholy passion as they alternately clung to each other and seemed to part.
Composer Be Steadwell’s original music heightened the sense that we were cavorting with the demimonde in 1890s Paris. I’ll be watching for more from both Kache and Steadwell.
A dancer who can do anything
R. Colby Damon was one of my favorite dancers at BalletX, and I loved his first choreographed piece for the company, On the Mysterious Properties of Light. He’s one of the more cerebral choreographers out there, so for his latest, The Bardo of Beautiful Mess, I was expecting another piece that called upon philosophy, or maybe the poetics of physics. I did not expect Richard Villaverde in a black corset and long skirt riding a hoverboard across a stage filled with dancers dressed like the people you’d find on the streets of any town. Costume designer Rebecca Kanach gave us cheerleaders and garage mechanics, and a lady biker in a false mustache and leathers on the “street.” Zack Kapeluck, as an old man in shorts and a false stomach, and Andrea Yorita, as an old woman in a red dress with pendulous breasts and a cane, danced a cheery romance. They flirted with all the lifts until she threw her cane away and they celebrated with a gleeful bit of a Charleston.
The music of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took us back to the disco, and Blake Krapels was kind of amazing in a blonde wig and gold lamé dress. But there is no question that Villaverde stole the show. Over this season he’s become one of my favorite dancers. Now that I have seen him dancing in a corset dress on a hoverboard, I am pretty sure he can do anything.
Fifteen months later
BalletX has been celebrating its 15th season in the shadow of the pandemic, and this was its first full live performance in front of an audience since the city shut down. It has been a long 15 months of fear and grief and loneliness, and we’ve all struggled to connect with the arts and each other any way we could. I arrived at the show expecting drama, but instead BalletX brought joy—a gender-bending romp that took us to the wild side of the demimonde and reminded us of the vibrant life and character of the city we’ve missed in our isolation.
Image description: A photo from a performance of The Bardo of Beautiful Mess. Three male dancers stand on a sunlit indoor stage. The one in the center, arms outstretched, wears a corset and black gauze skirt and stands on a hoverboard.
What, When, Where
BalletX presents new works by R. Colby Damon and Alia Kache. May 25 and 26, 2021, at Glen Foerd, 5001 Grant Avenue, Philadelphia. Tickets sold out. balletx.org.
All audience members are required to wear masks. Glen Foerd is not a wheelchair-accessible venue.