As Elvis memorably sang, it can be a blue Christmas for many. BalletX acknowledged that when it opened its fall program Wednesday night at the Wilma Theater with two world premieres about holiday stress.
They’re far from being downers. Matthew Neenan’s Twelve Bells could become a new company favorite. Jo Strømgren’s The Moon is amusing and very quirky.
Twelve Bells reunites Neenan with New Zealand composer and musician Rosie Langabeer, who has made magic several times with BalletX, most notably composing Neenan’s 2014 ballet Sunset, o639 Hours — and playing it onstage. That work has become a showpiece for the company, and the two are becoming a team whose work is something to look forward to.
This time they add another musician, Tara Middleton, to the mix as a composer and cocreator.
The dance is lovely, clearly Neenan, with pointe shoes used as percussion and a lot of movements leaning off balance, but the music is what really made the piece happen Wednesday. Langabeer, Middleton, and musician Joshua Machiz (who was also involved in Sunset) sang and played multiple instruments onstage during the action.
Twelve Bells is a bit like Philadanco’s old favorite Xmas Philes, which is coming back to the Annenberg Center next week, in that it includes vignettes about a variety of holiday events set to Christmas music. But while Xmas Philes is mostly merry and bright, Twelve Bells has a somber undertone, even when the sections are about parties and shopping.
A few solos represent the burden of the holidays. Chloe Perkes was especially touching, set apart from the opening Victorian Christmas scene. Perkes sits downstage in a bright yellow costume — as if trying to will herself to be happy. But she can barely move.
Andrea Yorita, who is usually very energetic, also played a low-energy character this time, trying to decorate a Christmas tree but not getting very far. It is a good out-of-character role for her, although I missed her usual vigor and powerful dancing.
The three musicians made the most of their small ensemble by playing many instruments: Tibetan singing bowls, bass, organ, piano. The dancers rang handheld bells that doubled as wine glasses when turned upside down.
Some of the Christmas music is familiar, but the score is primarily made up of new songs — seven of them — with cheerful tunes set against less chipper lyrics like, “It’s a very special day for someone else” and “If I can just get through December.” I might’ve bought the soundtrack on the way out the door if they had sold it like they did with Sunset.
The Moon addresses what astronauts might be talking about when they’re not actively working. It is an odd mix of science-fiction, personal dramas, and Christmas — but still enjoyable.
Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck are two astronauts pondering life back on Earth, a near-miss accident, and Christmas. They rarely move but sit on stools wearing spacesuits and lighted helmets and talk. The rest of the cast dances buoyantly, looking out-of-this-world weightless.
The staging includes a beautiful video projection of Earth and the moon, designed by Jorge Cousineau. But on opening night, it didn’t play the first time the dancers came out. Take two!
Waiting five or so minutes for the curtain to come back up was a pretty big break in the action, but the projection turned out to be a vital part of the story and scene.
BalletX: “The Moon” and “Twelve Bells”
Through Dec. 15, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., $25-$65, 215-893-9456, balletx.org