BalletX was one of the first to return to live performances — but it is also among the first to retain a digital season
The company returned to the small screen, releasing another digital program in its BalletX Beyond series. The company has not yet announced much of its season yet, so it was a welcome surprise.
BalletX was one of the first dance companies to be back presenting live shows when it performed outdoors in June at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
And then it moved indoors in September, dancing at the Suzanne Roberts Theater.
On Wednesday, the company returned to the small screen, releasing another digital program in its BalletX Beyond series.
The four films are less than 20 minutes altogether and can be watched in any order. Because the company has not yet announced much of its in-person or digital season yet, it was a welcome surprise.
“So many people around the country are interested in the work that we’re doing,” artistic director Christine Cox said. After seeing the reception to the digital season, “how honored we are that [people far from Philadelphia] took the time to be a part of something that we were making. I want to create as many opportunities for people to experience the company.”
Digital work not only meant a wider pool of potential audience members, but the ability to work with choreographers around the world. Hiring dance makers to work, often over Zoom and on smaller projects, gives Cox opportunities to work with people she might not be able to fly in, or to test out lesser-known choreographers.
Case in point is Adji Cissoko, a dancer at Alonzo King Lines Ballet in San Francisco. Her film Aziz is one of four on the current program.
“She had never choreographed a single thing,” Cox said. “So this is really her first go at it.
Cox took a chance because “I really want to support female choreographers.” Then she corrected herself. “Not ‘really want to,’ I do support female choreographers. Maybe it’s the beginning of something more for her. Yeah, maybe not. But I wanted to be a part of her story.”
Jodie Gates created a solo, Study #1 … Tendu, for former student Andrea Yorita. Gates, a well-known choreographer and former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet (now Philadelphia Ballet) and other companies, is the founding director of the school of dance at the University of Southern California.
Cox had been in talks with Canadian Helen Simoneau for years about making a piece for BalletX. Simoneau finally got her turn with this program and her film Les Voisins.
There is also a film from New York-based John Heginbotham, who danced with Mark Morris and choreographed the 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! His piece is called Studio.
While BalletX’s previous films were set in locations around the Philadelphia area, Cox wanted to move this set into the rehearsal room.
“It’s like a glance, a peek at their work in the studio,” she said. “But it’s not like us taking our iPhones and walking around filming. We hired filmmakers to come in and do them.
“But it’s us playing with the camera, us getting closer into the work.”
Heginbotham’s Studio is set to piano music by Dana Suesse, is the longest at just over seven minutes, and feels the most complete. It takes four dancers who were sitting drowsily at the edge of the studio and moves them into small duets and quartets. His film shows the movement from many positions: an audience’s point of view, close-up details, a dizzying look from a turning dancer’s perspective.
Set to music by Ryan Lott, Gates’ Study #1 … Tendu teaches us an interesting lesson about one of the most basic but also most important steps in ballet. She shows us how it is the basis for many steps, as Yorita performs increasingly complex movements based on the humble stretched leg and foot of the tendu.
Cissoko’s Aziz, set to music by Aziz Kuyate, shows us three company women dancing many of the same steps but by themselves. Her film points out their taut backs and their stretched feet, and then pulls back to show their interactions. The dancers make Cissoko’s movements look smooth and easy but the camera shows us all the muscles furiously working.
Simoneau’s Les Voisins is the shortest piece, clocking in at two minutes, 54 seconds. Set to music by Michael Wall, it is the most like a snippet from the stage and has the four dancers performing full out, with a lot of partnering between a man and a woman and two other men. We barely get started before the dancers are backing away and the screen goes black. It would be an interesting section of a longer piece.
This year BalletX has more dancers to work with, 11 full-time company members up from 10, including several new ones. It also has four dance fellows this year rather than two, although they don’t perform as much.
Most everything else about this year is still under wraps. BalletX will present more digital programs, though, Cox said, as well as a show with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society at the Kimmel Center in January.