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Up close with the past, present, and future of dance
Philadelphia Ballet presents Forward Motion
Forward Motion continues Philadelphia Ballet’s New Works series with an engrossing program of three world premieres that reflect diverse visions of contemporary ballet. Works by Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Hope Boykin, and Philadelphia Ballet’s resident choreographer Juliano Nunes draw from classical, modern, and lyrical movement vocabularies to explore human relationships and the energy and beauty of dance.
Seeing dancers from every level of the company’s ranks perform in the Kimmel Cultural Campus's intimate Perelman Theater was a treat. A new café and seating area opposite the theater offers an inviting space to gather before and after performances, and the windows looking out on Broad Street provide a better view than the box office formerly located there. But the best view of the night was the stage and Philadelphia Ballet’s ability to excel in brand-new dances as well as the story ballets and repertory works that comprise the majority of its season.
The precision and graceful lines of Nunes’s PS combine with springlike hues and energy to suggest a sense of possibility. Dancers wear green bodysuits with shoes to match by Mikaela Kelly while Nick Kolin’s lighting design emphasizes the movement onstage, sometimes casting performers in shadow or blue light. The opening scene fills the stage with slow, moving poses that melt into ever-shifting duets, trios, and quartets.
A dramatic reprise of the opening scene pairs the dancers’ movement with piano notes of music by Alexander McKenzie and Sune Martin before segueing into sections danced by smaller groups. These offset the ensemble scenes’ majesty with individual artistry. Seven female dancers embody vitality in motion, and Oksana Maslova’s solo demonstrates singular muscle articulation. Zecheng Liang, Arian Molina Soca, and Jack Thomas shine as they lift and turn each other before Liang and Soca catch Thomas mid-spin.
Boykin’s ENdure counters the airy classicism of PS with earthy humanity and the rootedness of modern dance. Emotive gestures fuel exploration of physical and emotional endurance as well as the inner voice that drives us to persist. Nine dancers move with, in, and out of a group, sometimes observing one another. The performers have bare feet in the opening scene, and those with longer hair wear it down and away from their faces instead of severely pulled back in a traditional bunhead style.
High kicks and shoulder rolls alternate with dancers walking and running through the space. Siobhan Howley and Javier Rivet hold out their hands, place palms on their hearts, and recoil as if in pain. ENdure invites viewers to feel along with these characters, to place ourselves in their shoes, and to consider the emotions stirred by facing and surviving adversity.
Foniadakis’s Circumstellars takes things beyond the human realm, drawing its name from an astronomical term for the material around new stars out of which new planets form. Lighting by Sakis Birbilis first suggests an industrial environment, then a galactic one as a row of lights resemble warehouse windows, then rise like spacecraft. Bodysuits by Anastasios Sofroniou in green, purple, black, and brown with shoes and gloves to match enhance the work’s futuristic feel.
Dancers on pointe seem posthuman as they roll their necks and heads elegantly to the thrums and synth sounds of Julien Tarride’s original score. Lead couple Mayara Pineiro and Sterling Baca effortlessly perform a series of balances and lifts as the lights change colors. Other dancers join them as the lights soften, so that the bodies on stage become near-silhouettes before disappearing into fog.
If PS invokes ballet’s classical history and ENdure references the challenges of the present, Circumstellars looks to the future. Forward Motion is an impressive, up-close look at the breadth and depth of Philadelphia Ballet that leaves me anticipating the next installment of the New Works series.
What, When, Where
Forward Motion. Choreography by Andonis Foniadakis, Hope Boykin, and Juliano Nunes. Philadelphia Ballet. $50-$148. Through February 11, 2023, at the Kimmel Cultural Campus's Perelman Theater, 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or philadelphiaballet.org.
Masks are not required.
The Kimmel Cultural Campus is a wheelchair-accessible venue; visit the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s accessibility page for detailed accessibility information.
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