BalletX opened its last program of the season Wednesday night at the Prince Theater with a dancing commentary on the state of the union.
The program includes world premieres by cofounder and choreographer Matthew Neenan and former Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Jodie Gates, as well as a company favorite by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Together they offer a strong political statement.
The Neenan piece, Let Mortal Tongues Awake, is the most overtly political. An ugly-pretty ballet with gorgeous dancing and intentionally awkward costuming, it seems clearly to be about Donald Trump. The dancers are dressed in cut-up suits with neckties, each with fleshy padding on a different body part. It opens with two dictator-like characters on Evita-esque balconies on either side of the stage, moving in silence as the nearby "people" are stuck in place. Over time, the group begins to move, mostly at the whims of the dictators, later on their own.
Dancers rarely speak onstage, let alone sing, but in a cast of 10 dancers, Neenan found two singers with beautiful, strong voices. Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck alternate singing lines from lesser-known verses of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" as the group begins to take their figurative voices back.
Ochoa's 2011 Castrati opens the evening, with its seven castrated male singers (four danced by women) locked in a lab where they're being studied. They're anxious, but doing what they know — performing.
The harsh fluorescent lighting evokes the lab, but makes watching dance even more uncomfortable than the topic intends. This ballet was originally staged for the Wilma Theater, and the lighting seems not to have adapted correctly for the Prince's needs. Lights shined directly into the audience's eyes, even from the wings.
Still, it's a beautiful piece. The last section, set to music by Handel, is particularly stunning, with the company's beautiful modern-classical line complementing the baroque music.
Gates' Beautiful Once is beautiful now, a very classical piece on pointe set to music by Ryan Lott, performed by Son Lux and yMusic. It's about finding comfort in community when life seems otherwise chaotic, and is back to the ballet basics: beautiful partnering, clean lines, symmetrical patterns. It's a soothing way to distract from political discord — and to close a summer evening.