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Lewis J Whittington
Music and Dance Reviews
Performance Reviews
Wilma Theater
United States
Philadelphia, PA

BalletX offered up mixed dance bag for winter program

by Lewis J Whittington
February 16, 2016
Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Featured Dance Company:

BalletX (mail)
P.O. Box 22713
Philadelphia, PA 19110-2713

BalletX founders Christine Cox and Matt Neenan can take a deserved victory lap as they celebrate the company's 10th anniversary season. They have an avid and loyal home audience in Philadelphia and their national reputation continues to solidify commercially and artistically. They have also commissioned close to sixty works collaborating with many of today’s most in-demand choreographers.

The ensemble of ten is as tight as ever and maintains an infectious esprit. Newer members Skyler Lubin, Gary Jeter Jr., Edgar Anido and Daniel Mayo are up to speed with BalletX's contemporary ballet aesthetic. This year the troupe is dancing seven premieres along with revivals of signature pieces including performances of Neenan's hit dance-musical "Sunset: o639 Hours" at Jacob’s Pillow this summer.

For the company’s 2016 Winter Series at Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, Neenan programmed his expanded version of "Show Me" which premiered to much acclaim at Vail International Dance Festival last summer with guest dancers Isabella Boylston from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet’s Zachary Catazaro in the cast.

In Philly it led off a program with premieres by choreographer Trey McIntyre and Yin Yue, the first recipient of BalletX’s newly established choreographic fellowship.

"Show Me" was scored to music by contemporary string quartet Brooklyn Rider and had a childlike playfulness to it. Couples faced-off nose-to-nose mirroring each other’s movement and invading each other’s space. Andrea Yorita and Richard Villaverde flew into a sensual duet, while Daniel Mayo and Zachary Kapeluck cavorted on their own with moves that picked up the bluegrass fiddle line of the music.

Another quartet of dancers lingered in the background, finally coming forward with a complete set of moves and gestures, including cryptic hand geometry. Gary Jeter and Skyler Lubin flashed through in a duet that kept getting swept on and off with fragments of arabesques and chasses until they were suddenly at the center of the action with thrillingly paced balletics, that shimmered with steel and silk lyricism.

"Show Me" has Neenan's choreographic signatures, but he seems to always dig deeper into his creative well, especially with his BalletX dancers. Neenan’s strong sense of stage composition is just as captivating as any implied relationship scenario. The dancers’ counterpoint tempos and sculpted lines move with steely choreographic fluency that lets you take in the whole picture.

Yin Yue, a New York based choreographer with her own company, was chosen from over 50 applicants for BalletX’s first fellowship and worked directly with McIntyre to develop "One Heartbeat Above One Shadow Below." The ballet displayed Yue’s strong dance storytelling qualities, but ran out of steam in other areas.

The frantic opening group choreography had an industrial music video look. It got more interesting when it changed to a scene in which Villaverde was suddenly a man dying in the street. Soon enough he was a dancer departed, separated in a shaft of light. In a strong, inventive solo his ghost tried to return to his beloved, danced by Caili Quan.

The ensemble sections, with dancers shadowing this action, had both a busy and static feel as Yue tended to crowd her own choreography. Still, Yue presented strong elements and the audience obviously connected to the ballet’s overt theatricality. And however overpacked, the piece framed dynamic solos for Villaverde and Quan.

McIntyre is a master storyteller, adapting such beloved fantasies as Peter Pan. He is just as impressive in contemporary themes like his exploration of relationships in "Blue Until June."
His "Big Ones," was a surreal ballet set to songs by Amy Winehouse, the beloved, hard living British soul singer who died too young. The choreographer likes character costumes and "Big Ones" (a double entrendre) has the dancers in pleather unitards and black footlong rabbit ears.

Chloe Felesina walked onstage with a line of mic stands with these headdresses on them, backlit by a row of footlights and Winehouse at her snarkiest voice singing about not going to rehab.

The playlist contined with "Wake Up Alone," "F*** Me Pumps," "Valerie," "You know I’m No Good" and "Back to Black." Choreographing to pop songs presents unique challenges. The songs tell a story. So should a choreographer depict that story, change it or ignore it? McIntyre bounced between all three options. The first two numbers seemed to have no connection to the choreography directly or indirectly. Things kicked in for a women’s trio set to “To Know Him Is To Love Him" with playful camaraderie and witty pointe work laced with line-dance hooks. And a later men’s quartet also with a driving clarity. Many of the ensemble vignettes however, read as coldly technical.

A central scenario unfolded that brought Chloe Felesina and Daniel Mayo (who got to make sense out of that headgear) together and this seemed to relate to Winehouse’s hard living persona; a poignant reminder of the talented singer’s tragic end. Meanwhile, Felesina and Mayo made the most of it and delivered electric performances in and out of McIntyre’s heady gear.
BalletX dancers in Matthew Neenan's 'Show Me.'

BalletX dancers in Matthew Neenan's "Show Me."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

BalletX dancers Gary W. Jeter II, Chloe Felisina (in red top), Richard Villaverde, Zachary Kapeluck, Daniel Moyo in Yin Yue's 'One Heartbeat Above One Shadow Below.'

BalletX dancers Gary W. Jeter II, Chloe Felisina (in red top), Richard Villaverde, Zachary Kapeluck, Daniel Moyo in Yin Yue's "One Heartbeat Above One Shadow Below."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

BalletX dancers in Trey McIntyre's 'Big Ones.'

BalletX dancers in Trey McIntyre's "Big Ones."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

BalletX dancers Zachary Kapeluck and Richard Villaverde in Trey McIntyre's 'Big Ones.'

BalletX dancers Zachary Kapeluck and Richard Villaverde in Trey McIntyre's "Big Ones."

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

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