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BalletX again hits the very high bar its world premiere series has set | Review

The company explores a range of timely themes — civil rights, the social challenges of a pandemic, trying to find common ground — all in less than half an hour.

BalletX dancers Shawn Cusseaux and Skyler Lubin in Manuel Vignoulle's "Heal."
BalletX dancers Shawn Cusseaux and Skyler Lubin in Manuel Vignoulle's "Heal."Read moreDaniel Madoff

Ten months into the pandemic, BalletX’s Beyond series of filmed world premieres continues to feel fresh and necessary, despite offering very quick bites. In the latest series, released Wednesday night, the dance comes alive off the screen.

The styles of dance and the themes here are nicely varied, and on-location filming offers a chance for us to “visit” spots that are more difficult to experience now. The program runs for less than half an hour.

Manuel Vignoulle’s Heal is set in a warmer season — in Awbury Arboretum, West Mill Creek Park, and Washington Square West — to vocals by Li Ósc’. This is a pandemic piece, with stories of too much solitude and too little.

A dancer in a padded room rages against his space. One in a mask of mummy bandages struggles to break free. A couple in the leafy outdoors are bonded a little too closely. A dancer slides through a slurry of mud, aiming for clarity.

The music, movement, and lovely autumnal setting are the healing balm the title promises.

Tsai Hsi Hung’s Two X Two was filmed in the Franklin Institute’s original reading room for the first Patent Library in the United States. Set to music by Luca D’Alberto, it has two dancers approaching, avoiding, and exploring each other.

Their movements are borrowed from martial arts; the choreographer sees the dancers as a tiger and a dragon. The room is ornate, the costumes a mix of ceremonial robes and stylized topcoats, and the dancing an interesting blend of stalking, soft exploration, and sharp jabs.

Francesca Harper’s THAW is a now-rare group piece, set for seven dancers (mostly filmed in smaller groups) and set to music by Arcoiris Sandoval and slowdanger.

Harper’s piece was inspired by the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws banning interracial marriage, as well as the work of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, a Philadelphia poet and social justice advocate.

The choreography felt especially powerful given the work’s Inauguration Day premiere, as new Vice President Kamala Harris was setting a series of historic firsts.

BalletX is small but diverse, and in this piece, the dancers explore both their individuality and their commonality. A dancer shines a light on another who is looking deep into a mirror. We see them in close-up. They record each other on phones which project onto a wall.

New company dancer Ashley Simpson is particularly stunning here, with soft, controlled movements. Harper’s look at interracial relationships is especially poignant.


BalletX Premieres

Available until Aug. 31 with a BalletX Beyond subscription. Fees are $15 a month for a basic plan and $30 for an upgrade with extras, including behind-the-scenes documentaries. Information at