Oct. 20, 2016
by Christopher Hyde
BalletX, which came to Merrill Auditorium Thursday under the auspices of Portland Ovations, presented one of the most unusual and satisfying dance programs in recent memory. (Disclaimer: the company originated in Philadelphia, where I was born.)
They had to overcome two prejudices of most balletomanes: combining classical ballet and modern dance, and the use (primarily) of popular rather than classical music. Both objections vanished in the face of the dancers’ enormous talent and energy, and the originality of the choreography.
The music was recorded, which robs the performance of some of the spontaneity made possible by a conductor, but the styles were so individual —from Klezmer to Bach— that it would have been impossible to produce their variety with one orchestra.
If I had to characterize BalletX in one word, it would be “erotic.” But the appeal goes much deeper than that. The poses, lifts and steps, no matter how intricate, elaborate, and athletic, stem from the natural motions of the human body. They are real life raised to a higher power, and the audience can almost feel them.
Some claim that piano playing ability improves when one’s muscles subconsciously imitate those of a pianist on stage. The same thing happens with BalletX. The audience walked more gracefully as they left the theater.
The choreographers, different for each of the four short ballets on the program, know their fine arts. There were instant snapshots of Matisse dancers, Delvaux’s mysterious women, the loneliness of Edward Hopper, and the hieratic poses of Will Barnet. They are also very conscious of the changing patterns of negative space. Multiple hand and arm gestures sometimes unfolded like the petals of a flower under time-lapse photography.
The first ballet, “Slump,” is described as “a wild, aggressive dance about courtship and the instinctual rituals of mating, set to klezmer, jazz and mambo music.” It was all of the above, and more, perfectly matched to the unique mood of klezmer.
My favorite ballet of the night was an elaborate semi-classical pas de deux, by Chloe Felecia and Richard Villaverde, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It reminded me of the line from Arnold’s “Dover Beach”—“Love, let us be true to one another…” giving each other strength in bad times.
“Gran Partita,” set to classical music by Berg, Mozart, Bach and Monteverdi, replaced “Delicate Balance,” which illustrates pattern in chaos through the use of contemporary music. It also emphasized the company’s skill at setting large unified patterns, like a living kaleidoscope.
The final work on the program, “The Last Glass,” explored the joys and tribulations of everyday street life, among them boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl loses boy. At least the star-crossed lovers were reunited during many enthusiastic curtain calls.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at email@example.com.