BalletX's winter series at the Wilma Theater is a wonderfully quirky mix of travel, physics, and trying to make it in the big world on your own.
The company specializes in new work, and this polished program offers an East Coast premiere from BalletX cofounder Matthew Neenan and world premieres from former company dancer R. Colby Damon and Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren.
Neenan's piece, "Credo," was commissioned last summer by the Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado (where BalletX will perform again this summer) and is the product of a trip to India. Neenan wove into the work the colors, culture, movement, and chaos he experienced during his visit. An onstage string quartet plays a surprisingly well-integrated score of pieces by Haydn and Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts. For a midsize company like this, the live music is a special treat.
The work has the markings of a Neenan piece, with some of his often-used shuffling steps and arm movements, but it also has layers of breath work, pantomime, group dances, poses that look like Indian statues and paintings, and dancers wrapped in colorful sari-like costumes.
Damon's delightful nerd ballet On the Mysterious Properties of Light is an unlikely dance about physics set to a series of folk songs. The centerpiece is a witty nine-minute monologue on deep science, narrated in a series of accents by dancer Zachary Kapeluck while he and others interpret through movement the meaning of life, light, and photons.
If that's not wacky enough, Strømgren's piece, "The Letter," is about a newbie choreographer making his first big-city contemporary work to some old-timey records he accidentally grabbed on his way out of his grandfather's Nebraska home.
The framework of the piece is a letter home to his grandpa that we hear as a voiceover about trying to fit in, making his dance, and understanding the mystery of the serious artistes -- all dressed in black -- with whom he works.
The movements at first may seem obtuse and elitist -- a small section is performed to silence -- but Strømgren's narrator says sometimes choreographers do that because dance critics like it. And sometimes a group of dancers lying on the ground, bouncing up one at a time, is really just interpreting Grandma's simmering oatmeal.
BalletX looks polished and sophisticated in this program, but now we know the real truth.
BalletX. 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Wilma Theater. 215-546-7824, balletx.org.