BWW Review: BalletX Offers a Superbly Danced Triple Bill at the Joyce
As one of five troupes showcased during the 2018 Ballet Festival at the Joyce in NYC, BalletX proved once again that its reputation as Philadelphia's premier contemporary ballet company is well deserved. I praised BalletX back in August of 2016 and I was pleased to see that on June 30th 2018, the caliber of the choreography and the dancing continues to be first rate.
The evening's opener was the New York Premiere of Vivir (Spanish for "to live") by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie to five pieces of Latin music that Moultrie explains in a program note are reminiscent of his birthplace, Spanish Harlem. He wrote: "This work was created to celebrate the culture, the people, and the sound that helped me thrive. Music saves and heals us." That's a lofty goal, but one that he succeeded in accomplishing. Nine dancers, the ladies on pointe, performed with confidence and charisma as they executed the inventive steps and lifts with easy enthusiasm.
Next came a pause that was much too long while the dancers changed costumes and a string quintet took its place on stage behind the closed curtains. Audience members fidgeted and glanced at their phones in the semidarkness. I heard whispers about whether something might have gone wrong. A far better choice would have been to make that pause an intermission.
Fortunately, Increasing by Matthew Neenan turned out to be worth the wait. Neenan, a co-founder of the company who now focuses on choreography rather than artistic direction, is a master of fluid movements and eminently musical patterns. In this piece, with all ten of the dancers on the roster for the run, the minimalist costumes by Carole Divet (courtesy of the Pennsylvania Ballet) worked perfectly to let viewers' eyes focus on the superb dancing. The aforementioned musicians, positioned upstage right, played Franz Shubert's String Quartet in C major, Op 163, D. 956 with admirable skill. Live music always upgrades any dance performance. Kudos to Neenan for knowing that. As he wrote in a program note about this work, a New York Premiere first shown at the Vail Dance Festival in 2014: "My only desire with Increasing was to make a dance that sprang entirely from the music and to make movement that would closely parallel the playful richness and intensity of Schubert's musical structure." With the ladies not on pointe, and the deceptively simple lifts, he did exactly that.
The closer, after an intermission, was a total change of pace. Prolific choreographer Trey McIntyre's The Boogeyman, to a series of hit pop songs by such composers as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Johnny Nash, featured a bed as a clever prop that converted at one point into a wall with an old-fashioned landline phone. The choreographer dedicated the piece to the Soul Train Dancers from the 70s and added the cryptic message, "Thank you for saving me." During its 35-year history, the Soul Train TV series featured R&B, soul, dance/pop, hip hop, funk, jazz, disco, and gospel artists. McIntyre's The Boogeyman echoed this range of styles with spirited, hip-shaking dancing that elicited enthusiastic applause. I overheard one woman seated near me say, "Now I want to go dancing!" I'm sure plenty of other people were similarly inspired.
BalletX also performed twice on July 1st at the Joyce. The Ballet Festival continues at the Joyce with the Ashley Bouder Project on July 2nd, 3rd and 5th, and Barak Ballet on July 6th and 7th. For more information, visit http://www.joyce.org/ballet-festival. For more information about BalletX, including upcoming performances, outreach, company dancer bios, the Center for World Premiere Choreography, and more, please visit www.BalletX.org .
Photo courtesy of Kornberg PR.