BalletX Spring Series

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday March 16, 2018

Gary Jeter in "Vivir."
Gary Jeter in "Vivir."  

It still might be cold outside but BalletX dancers are already burning the floor with three premiere ballets at the Wilma Theater. Where else but BalletX can you hear the sizzling mambo of Tito Puente, Marvin Gaye's ultimate '70s dance groove "Got to Give It Up" and the classical fire of live musicians from the Curtis Institute performing onstage with the dancers?

Opening the concert is choreographer Darrell Grande Moultrie "Vivir" scored to Latin jazz and salsa music that he loved hearing growing up in Spanish Harlem. From the driving acoustic guitar of Rodrigo y Gabriela to the sultriest orchestrals by Tito Puente, Grand Moultrie fusion of ballet pointe work and salsa.

Dancers fly on and offstage, joining each other in pulsing ensemble configurations, trio and duets. Gary Jeter remains onstage and dancing a soul searching solo to Bebo B. Cigala's bittersweet ballade "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" Gary Jeter and Francesca Forcella, frequent BX partners lead the sensual, fluid motion duets.

A scene from "Increasing."
A scene from "Increasing."  

Matt Neenan's premiered "Increasing" in 2014 at Vail International Dance Festival with the company joined by New York City Ballet guest stars Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. The ballet looks just as good in its Philadelphia premier with the BX roster dancing those solo sections and joined by the stellar musicians from the Curtis Institute of Music on stage with them performing Schubert's String Quintet C Major.

In flamenco it is called duende - the synergy when dancers are in the direct zone of live musicians - and this ballet is exemplar of the potential of that dynamic as well. Neenan's choreography so inspired by the propulsion and introspection of Schubert's chamber music, more than any implied narrative. The ensemble in quicksilver configurations that flock and scatter. Neenan punctuating with aerial variations and scintillating pointe work. Caili Quan thrills with mach speed pirouettes and her shimmering duet with Skyler Lubin. The push-pulls of the violin interplays of Eunic Kim and Piotr Filochowski as hypnotic as the dancing. And this is a Neenan signature to keep the music an equal element on the dance stage.

Flash dance partnering spring from the taut string dialogue between the violins, then another dancer may fly on and pick up the undercurrent bassline by cellists Glenn Fischbach and Branson Yeast, or the counterpoint of violist Yoshihika Nakano. Kudos to former Pennsylvania Ballet II and Joffrey dancer Jenny Winton for subbing for company member Chloe Perkes who is recovering from an injury.

Roderick Phifer in "Boogeyman."
Roderick Phifer in "Boogeyman."  

Choreographer Trey McIntyre's last commission by BalletX was his much acclaimed "Big Ones" set to a song cycle by the late R&B singer Amy Winehouse, but as cleverly idiosyncratic his choreography was, it didn't emotionally connect to the music in key ways. McIntyre's "Boogeyman" does. There is an esprit, wit and a floating narrative of a young man expressing himself via the music to '70s pop hits. Roderick Phifer is alone in his bedroom plugged into his bulky headphones (I know, who would have guessed that they would be back) that turns into a witty, joyous, bittersweet drama of a breakup between enacted by dancers Roderick Phifer and Andrea Yorka.

Phifer has period headphones on hunched over and start some unhooked moves to one of the club megahits starting with Gaye's "Got to Give it Up." Phifer explodes into full on funk moves punctuated with vaults and somersaults. In this fantasy danceland, a quintet of partiers saunter on, they are dressed in '70s show drag and McIntyre revives "Soul Train" dance line moves with witty samplings of proto-break, robotic and wave choreo and who can forget those deep plié gyrations.

As they funk down the line, Andrea Yorita and Phifer circle a phonebooth that might be the scene of their breakup. Yorita is in a state of catatonia in the bed but starts to express the angst sung out by Leo Sayer's heartbreaker "Alone Again Naturally." Later Phifer and Yorita dance their fated lover's tale to Stevie Wonder's soul search lovers' ballade "Never Dreamed You'd Leave Me In Summer." Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" house down party featuring McIntyre's liberated dancing that pulses through the bodies of these dancers.

BalletX Spring Series performances through March 18 at The Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce St. Philadelphia- the BalletX website for complete information.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.