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Lewis J Whittington
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Wilma Theater
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Philadelphia, PA
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Colby Damon’s new ballet to highlight BalletX's Winter Series 2017 program

by Lewis J Whittington
February 8, 2017
Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Featured Dance Company:

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

Dance and science meet in choreographer Colby Damon’s new ballet “On The Mysterious Properties of Light” premiering this month with BalletX. It will debut on the company's Winter Series 2017 program, February 10-19 at Philadelphia's Wilma Theater with "The Letter," a new work by Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren along with BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan’s East Coast Premiere of “Credo,” that was first performed at the 2016 Vail International Dance Festival to wide acclaim.

With less than two weeks to go before the opening, Damon was rehearsing his BalletX cast at Philadelphia's newly renovated Performance Garage in Fairmount and afterward he talked about light and how it behaves as his main inspiration for the new ballet.

Damon said he only had about “a minute” more of choreography to complete in the three-part contemporary ballet that depicts how light behaves “on a quantum level, more or less.” and that the choreography in the piece is “based on strict science” with physics and theorems embodied by the dancers. But of course, within that there is also poetic license, he assures - how light “relates to us and our bodies, emotions, and the best part of human nature.”

One part is about “photons actually,” Colby deadpanned with a grin. In broad terms, photons are quantum of visible light and Damon’s choreography represent “how photons act,” he explained, in ways that evoke both negative and positive implications. The section "goes from a stark, even mystical place to a very happy place. The dance energy flips a lot in this piece…all over the place.”

Damon has chosen Chinese music performed by the Kronos Quartet to score this energy. In another section he uses a throbbing score of Mongolian "tuvan" throat music that has a sonic resonance meant to get inside of your body. The dancing has a tribal quality and the choreography looks like a fusion of chaotic and structured movement.

Damon is working with New York City Ballet lighting designer Mark Stanley. "The lighting design is integral to the concept and Mark among the best in the business for dance."

In a segment of the rehearsal, BalletX's dancers ran through a compelling quartet by Damon for three men and one woman.

Chloe Felesina and Francesca Forcella in pointe shoes switched off dancing the intricate lead role. They were locked in intricate motion between three men- Richard Villaverde, Gary W. Jeter II and Daniel Mayo.

Damon explained that the woman's part represents "a quanta of energy that is passed between a bunch of hydrogen and helium atoms - the three men play these chemical elements.

“Actually, it takes a million years for that quanta to make its way to the center of the sun. It gets absorbed and released an infinite amount of times and that is what this dance depicts,” he said.

There are several duets which tie into a "dense" scientific text written by Damon and spoken live. "I posit some theories about light, but it is all based pretty much universally accepted by physicists.” But he says he also weaves in some of his mystical hypotheses that “most likely scientists would think is ridiculous.”

Damon has a training and performance background in both classical ballet and contemporary dance. He has danced for Sacramento Ballet, Mark Morris Dance Group and others. He joined BalletX in 2008 and stopped performing two years ago after a serious knee injury. He has continued teaching company class and heads the company's Dance eXchange project, a student outreach program that introduces hundreds of area students to dance, movement and performance.

Damon has created ballets and other works for Opera Philadelphia, Charlottesville Ballet, Brazil’s Vivadança Festival and several works for Pennsylvania Ballet's annual Shut Up & Dance Benefit. Last year choreographed new production and score of "The Jungle Book" for Pennsylvania Ballet II, in collaboration with The Curtis Institute of Music, where it premiered and then toured to area schools.

Creating this work on BalletX has been a natural creative journey says Damon. “I know these dancers and their strengths pretty well, so we’re all here hanging out, but definitely getting the work done. It has made this process enjoyable."

Damon indicates that the men and women are going to alternate in a series of high-octane solos that might be considered traditionally "masculine" because of there full-throttle athleticism. "The woman of the company expressed a frustration that they always just get to watch the guys do all this cool stuff," says Damon. "It's been great fun and they [the women] really look amazing."

After almost two hours rehearsing Damon was trying to make have all the dancers hit a particular position in unison, but the count was off-kilter during a particularly fast-moving group configuration. The dancers are meant to finish all facing downstage but most don't get there on the count. After two more tries, Damon just laughs along with the group and changes the choreography in a more natural direction, perhaps taking a cue from the way natural light was entering the studio through the building’s Palladian windows.

Although Damon said he was close to being done with the ballet, but like natural science, he knows you can't rush discovery nor creativity.

BalletX Winter Series 2017 at The Wilma Theater runs February 10-19, 2017. Visit BalletX.org for tickets and information.
R. Colby Damon

R. Colby Damon

Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev

(L-R) BalletX's Richard Villaverde, Zachary Kapeluck, Caili Quan and Andrea Yorita.

(L-R) BalletX's Richard Villaverde, Zachary Kapeluck, Caili Quan and Andrea Yorita.

Photo © & courtesy of Vikki Sloviter Photography

Colby Damon with BalletX's Caili Quan.

Colby Damon with BalletX's Caili Quan.

Photo © & courtesy of Vikki Sloviter Photography

BalletX's Gary W. Jeter II.

BalletX's Gary W. Jeter II.

Photo © & courtesy of Vikki Sloviter Photography

BalletX's Gary W. Jeter II.

BalletX's Gary W. Jeter II.

Photo © & courtesy of Vikki Sloviter Photography

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