BALLETX from Philadelphia closed the ArtPower! dance season at Mandeville Thursday with outstanding performances in three works informed by lighting and shifting mood.
Dramatic lighting gave Tobin Del Cuore’s Beside Myself the feel of headlights from an old Chevy truck on a country road. Cuore was born and raised in rural Maine, so that makes sense. But he now lives in Chicago, which may explain the shift. Two men dressed in hoodies slinked out of the inky blackness in deep second. Combined with an ominous score, the dance created a sense of creatures hiding in the woods or street thugs looking for trouble, depending on your life experience. Women greeted them with body isolations and then there was silence and another shift in mood. A duet was light and airy, and a tall bronze man had most expressive long arms and hands I’ve ever seen.
BALLETX is precise without being stiff. It is a contemporary ballet company focused on line and technique, but for this show, they danced in socks. I cannot overstate their exceptionally expressive hands, which Drew Billiau’s light design accented to great effect, even in the dull Mandeville Auditorium.
Billiau illuminated Beside Myself, as well as Alex Ketley’s Silt, a work for six dancers on silent feet who whirled through classical dance forms in fast forward. Martha Chamberlain’s costumes for the women, simple layers of black cut at the thigh, conjured thoughts of Balanchine’s clean garb. Middle sections dragged. A welcome shift came in large part because of the score.
A stunning duet was the heart of the work. Each time the man scooped up the woman, she froze into poses evocative of a mannequin with flexed feet. The multi-work score included Arvo Part, and that gorgeous music with empty space heightened the passion as much as the movement.
A man with his haired pulled into a bun took the spotlight in Switch Phase, a lively work by Matthew Neenan, artistic director of BALLETX. Set to a recording by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, he jammed to Klezmer-tinged rhythms with remarkable musicality. And to build more tension, one couple didn’t touch – until they were left alone. Their intimate tango had snapping pulls and body slides that only professional dancers should try at home.
Again, they all looked marvelous in costumes by Chamberlain. Colorful dresses matched upbeat flirtations and the fabric moved just right. With hands on hips, the men and women strutted and circled each other like folk dancers caught in a warm Santa Ana wind.