By Merilyn Jackson
FOR THE INQUIRER
Wednesday night’s BalletX season opener at the Wilma Theater began as dark and stormy onstage as it was outside. But the program grew progressively lighter and more serene, and ended with its loveliest and most upbeat work, the Philadelphia premiere of Switch Phase, by BalletX co-artistic director Matthew Neenan.
The evening also featured world premieres by two guest choreographers. Mauro Astolfi’s Instant God, for the full company, posits that people would like to have a personal “god” to fix everything in life — in a snap. He expressed this through confrontation, tensions, movement phrases frustrated by awkward endings, all underpinned by Notfromearth’s soundscape of rain and dissonant noise.
The women were all in Martha Chamberlain’s little dark sheaths, the men in street clothes, and all wore socks, the better to slide when pushed along by another dancer. Struggling entanglements of small to large groups and oppositional moves filled much of the dance. Astolfi’s sensuous, offbeat use of musicality and William Cannon’s solo — all about off-center backward falls and lunges — were the spine of this dance.
Philadelphian Kate Watson-Wallace, known for small site-specific works, made I Was at a Party and My Mind Wandered Off …. In the second work of hers for the stage I’ve reviewed in two years, she once again created a scene, this one a party winding down. Colby Damon and Jared Brunson lean into each other like boxers in the ring in the 10th round. Three women in white, their hair hanging over their eyes, rotate their shoulders. And all harmonize a song as they circle into and out of the larger group, ending with a wild last dance.
Neenan’s Switch Phase was the most accomplished piece on the program, but the company had had time to absorb it fully since premiering it last summer in Vail. To music recorded by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, the dancers oscillate around each other like celestial bodies moving through space. Allison Walsh straddles Cannon’s prone body as he snaps his torso up to her. When Walsh later slices her arm up the side of Cannon’s neck, he grasps her hand before she can pull it away.
The most poignant section was a tango with newcomer Richard Villaverde and retiring Tara Keating. If you’ve loved watching this adorable vamp-next-door dancer over the last 15 years, first at Pennsylvania Ballet and then with BalletX, you’ll be as sad to see her leave the stage as I am.
Additional performances: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. Tickets: $22-$35. 215-546-7824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.