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Jorma Elo has choreographed works for many of the world’s most renowned companies, from the New York City Ballet to the Bolshoi. His Scenes View 2, however, holds a special connection to our own BalletX and to Elo personally, and made a beautiful finish for BalletX’s 2023 Winter Series.
Because Elo’s mother was avidly involved in the church, Bach’s intricate Partita for Violin Solo No. 2 in D Minor (BWV, or Bach Works Catalogue, 1004) was firmly established in the choreographer’s emotional memory when, in 2006, the newly founded BalletX premiered his dance set to the fifth movement, the chaconne, of that intricate, difficult music. Elo explains this background in a film that precedes the performance at the Wilma; he speaks in halting phrases, his voice thick with feeling. He had me wondering, on opening night, how the dance—which was moved from the middle of the program to the end at the last minute—would bear out all that passion. Scenes View 2, it turns out, caps off the program perfectly, building subtly from an emphasis on design to a closing that is surprisingly poignant.
Growth and dreams
The program begins with Seeds, a world premiere by Gary W. Jeter II. As this year’s BalletX Choreographic Fellow, Jeter has been mentored by Darrell Grand Moultrie, who created the very moving Sacred Impermanence for the company’s fall program. Jeter’s concept is promising: he focuses on the “delicate process of growth and maturing,” per the program notes, and that idea starts to take shape. One dancer helps another rise from a prone position. The dancers, dressed in earth tones, wriggle as their limbs head out in new directions. But as they repeatedly raise two fingers, they seem to be signaling some meaning that the choreography doesn’t truly build. The sweet central idea never fully develops, and the ensemble ends in a predictable clump at center stage.
The program takes a step up with Amy Seiwert’s A Long Night, loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and set to various pop music with dream themes. This narrative dance, also a world premiere, represents a different direction for Seiwert, who is known for her abstract works. She ably communicates the story and pulls off some real entertainment, too.
Eli Alford is eye-catching as the sequin-suited Puck character, sprinkling enchanted petals on the unsuspecting Shawn Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Skyler Lubin, and Jerard Palazo. As in the original tale, magic makes Palazo briefly abandon Forcella and go for Lubin, Cusseaux’s partner, instead. Forcella pines away to the sound of Patsy Cline, then becomes the center of attention as the other dancers lift and support her in innovative formations.
A Long Night isn’t afraid of corny humor: at one point, a line of dancers poke their heads repeatedly in opposite directions. It feels like a screwball comedy—a rarity in dance. Yet its movement vocabulary offers rewards of its own. Robust lunges and sweeps forge a modern-dance path into very balletic poses. It successfully “masquerades” ballet technique, as Seiwert says in her film introduction, and offers a lot of fun in the process.
Great Ballet on Broad Street
Finally, there is Scenes View 2, a marvel that at first communicates the sharp complexities of Bach’s music in arresting, angular body shapes. L-shaped arms hover atop a deep lunge. The dancers, dressed in black and white, strike an X shape, or a T. Legs crossed in a strong figure-four, a dancer is lifted high. Everyone gathers in a strict V formation. Elo’s ensemble of seven faces off in opposing groups, often five dancers’ unison against a pair. There are several remarkable solos; Alford’s one-handed dips and swoops, in particular, are stunning. He—along with Forcella, Lubin and Palazo—display great athleticism as they dance their third piece of the evening. Late in Scenes View 2, pairs join arms and introduce rounded shapes, tender touches. Briefly and strikingly, the choreographer plumbs the deep emotion inherent in Bach’s music. (For an interesting contrast, see modern dance giant Josè Limón’s Chaconne, a solo-dancer treatment of the same composition that is intense throughout.)
The Winter Series is sold out. If you don’t make it off the waiting list and into the theater this time, try for BalletX tickets sometime soon. And join me in some Philly pride: we support both this small, cutting-edge company and the more buttoned-up Philadelphia Ballet—which also made a strong showing in its yearly program of new works recently. We have a lot of great ballet dancing on the Avenue of the Arts.
What, When, Where
2023 Winter Series. Choreography by Jorma Elo, Gary W. Jeter II, and Amy Seiwert. BalletX. Through March 5, 2023, at the Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. All shows are sold out; contact the box office for waitlist information. (215) 546-7824 or balletx.org.
BalletX encourages all audience members to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Face masks are optional, but recommended for audiences at the Winter Series performances.
The Wilma is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Contact the box office at least 24 hours in advance of the performance to book wheelchair seating, or if you have any questions, and visit the Wilma’s accessibility page.
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