By Merilyn Jackson
FOR THE INQUIRER
Oening night at the intimate Wilma Theater always seems a bit like a family reunion, and never more so than when it involves BalletX, the Wilma’s resident dance company. Theater and dance crowds are loyally supportive and talkative, and I don’t doubt that many friendships, even romances, evolve during lobby chats like those that took place Wednesday evening.
BalletX regularly conceives scintillating programs — mysterious, sexy, funny, and surprising. Tobin Del Cuore’s Beside Myself, premiered by the company in 2010, looked totally different against Matt Saunders’ talcum powder-white set for the Wilma’s Blanka Ziska-directed Angels in America. (Part One closed last week; Part Two opens in September).
The set’s doors offered dramatic shafts of light that gave the work the feel of a paperback pulp novel cover. Accenting that feeling were the Ben Frost score’s suspensefully held chords and the spooky, squat-legged entrance of Colby Damon and Jesse Sani, who wore hoodies over Martha Chamberlain’s turquoise leotards. They could have been casing the joint for a robbery — or looking for robbers.
Then Anitra N. Keegan and Allison Walsh came on the scene. Walsh was alluring in a duet with Damon, whom I may have underappreciated in the past. Either that or he has developed heightened expressiveness and precision. Their lyrical pas de deux was the crux of this piece. Damon excelled in all the works, most especially with self-deprecating nerdiness in the world premiere of Adam Hougland’s comic Mashup. His antic impishness was a foil for the more deadpan Tara Keating, Adam Hundt, Willy Laury, and Jaime Lennon as they all jammed themselves onto one sofa and then squeezed each other off
Keating took the spotlight when she flung open a door announcing herself as the femme fatale she is. In high-top black platform boots and black bustier and panties, she blithely kicked Hundt and Laury away before tossing them a long-stemmed rose from between her thighs. Lennon was also marvelous as the kinkily clueless librarian-type “virgin” in fishtail glasses. Again, Chamberlain gets the costumes spot-on, matching them to Big Daddy’s spoofs of such ’80s tunes as “Like a Virgin.”
Differences in Sections, another world premiere, by Darrell Grand Moultrie, featured a meltingly beautiful solo by Walsh in a Chamberlain-designed persimmon full-length gown. Walsh, who excited me last spring when I first saw her, wore the same color kneepads for the violent falls she took after some very Martha Graham-inspired contractions.
Color informed the choreography here as much as the gorgeous piano/violin music of Kenji Bunch: deep cherry reds on Keegan, Keating, and Lennon. Moultrie found ways to re-inform the space by working with company lighting designer Drew Billiau to throw shadows of William Cannon, Sani, Damon, and Hundt on the white walls, creating a sculptural, museum feel. Give artists a canvas and they will fill it with beauty.
Through Sunday at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. Tickets: $22-$35. 215-546-7824.