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BalletX: Ballet 6.0 at the Joyce Theater….

August 10, 2013
BALLETX Allison Walsh and Billy Cannon by Alexander Iziliaev

BALLETX Allison Walsh and Billy Cannon by Alexander Iziliaev

In the past when you mentioned ballet, it brought to mind images of Giselle, Swan Lake and the annual Nutcracker at Christmas. But that is yesterday’s ballet, the Joyce Theater’s annual festival, Ballet 6.0 has gathered six smaller companies from around the United States who are employing dancers and choreographers who are expanding, experimenting and pushing the envelope of what is expected of ballet and ballet dancers. The work presented during the two-week festival will be a range of ballet styles, from neo classical to contemporary.

On August 6th and 7th, the Philadelphia based company; BalletX, opened the festival with an evening of three works. Netherlands-based choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Still @ Life from 2008, Director of The Foundry in San Francisco Alex Ketley’s intriguing work Silt from 2009 and BalletX Artistic Director Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass which premiere in 2010.

Still @ Life is a perplexing work, as I find most of Ms. Ochoa’s choreography. The program notes stated the work follows Michelangelo’s career and brings frozen moments of his paintings to life.

Set to early Baroque concertos by Bach and von Wassenaer, frozen tableaux would come to life, sleek forms weaving in and around one another. The tableaux would play with architectural prospective in interesting ways and Drew Billiau’s lighting design created sfumato around the imagery.

Dancers are pulled on stage for demanding duets and then pulled off stage when finished, only to have another dancers being dragged on for the next duet. Ms. Ochoa’s works lean towards abstraction, but that abstraction became muddy with the incorporation of green apples that are seen periodically through the work.

BALLETX Allison Walsh by Alexander Iziliaev

BALLETX Allison Walsh by Alexander Iziliaev

Tossed about (and dropped a couple of times), using the mouth to pass from dancer to dancer, either a single apple or a group are rolled on stage throughout the performance and at one point a dancer appears, holding apples in his skirt which are carefully lined up across the front of the stage.

But I did find hints of Kylián in the melodious movement and the hint of humor. It’s an interesting work, not my favorite but others seemed to have enjoyed it greatly.

Alex Ketley’s Silt, set to a musical collage by Tar©JMB of the compositions by Chris Clark, Giovanni Pergolesi and Arvo Pärt, the piece starts out in silence as two dancers began to slowly move their bodies in awkward ways. My first impression at the start was not positive, but that changed quickly as the dance progressed, for it developed into a work of surprising complexity and depth.

Acceptance and rejection of self and by others is explored in ways almost flirtatious, a female dancer would step towards, around and then away from a man. He would stand and watch, unsure of her intent or how to respond.

The work is for six dancers and when they not dancing they become spectators, sitting or standing in the shadows created by the pool of light that is the center focus of action. Macabre body positions become suspended as if held by time, frozen only momentarily.

Elements of the classical vocabulary, cabrioles and pirouettes are freely dispersed in choreography that flows continuously. Odd body positions abound, the torso slightly off a kilter and the arms in a third position port de bra, this became as natural as standing upright to the dancers.

BALLETX Chloe Felesina by Alexander Iziliaev

BALLETX Chloe Felesina by Alexander Iziliaev

Bodies could be seen standing in the shadows like thought that’s just on the edge of your mind. The dancers exhibited a sense of intimacy and caring but in a way that did not appear to be in any way personal. The music is haunting, a tune you hear that brings forgotten memories, memories that are edged with darkness. Alex Ketley’s Silt is an impressive work, a work that displays the processes of the mind’s inner workings.

BalletX Artistic Director Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass closed the evening. Using the music of indie-rock band Beirut, Mr. Neenan’s The Last Glass brings to mind the Carnival or perhaps the Circus with its theatricality and the array of wandering characters.

Chloe Felesina looks somewhat perplexed, perhaps anxious as she slowly crosses the front of the stage wearing dingy knickers and a just-as-dingy top. Eight dancers are in the back, each seeming in their own world. At one edge of the stage a man and woman are seated, staring out blanking, and at the other end two women are standing with their backs to the audience, each is playing with her hair while their hips swaying provocatively like a couple of dockside doxies.

Zachary Kapeluck is wearing boxers and seems in the midst of doing a prison-yard style of Tai chi. While Colby Damon seems slightly intoxicating, throwing an arm out to the side or kicking his leg in the air as he weaves from side to side.

Matthew Neenan's The Last Glass, photo by Alexander Iziliaev

BALLETX Jesse Sani in Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass, photo by Alexander Iziliaev

The two dockside doxies are the only women en pointe, and after they turn around they seem to transform onto delicate ceramic dolls come to life.

Jesse Sani is one of my favorite male dancers for a reason. He performs a solo that is filled with child-like exuberance; there is innocence to his performance, an inner-joy like a young boy playing on a summer day.

The work is filled with feats of athleticism and takes polished technically abilities to be able to pull off. But BalletX has plenty of both, their dancers are all excellent. Jesse Sani jumps like no-one else and Zachary Kapeluck has a great stage presence with incredible lyricism to his dancing. But it is Chloe Felesina that steals your heart especially at the end, when she peeks out at the audience as the curtain slowly falls as if not wanting us to leave…….wow, what a performance.

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