The first taste of the inaugural Ballet v6.0 was nothing like Goldilocks’ favoured porridge – “just right” – but better, at least for an ambitious indie festival. Philadelphia’s young BalletX, among six troupes at the Joyce until August 17, was hot and cold: a promising mess in which the faults seemed necessary to the considerable achievements.
Or they did in two ballets, though not ubiquitous freelancer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Still@Life. This piece’s two aspects – one luscious and absorbing, the other gimmicky and dumb – did not depend on each other. Inspired by Michelangelo’s muscular bodies and performed to liquid early Baroque concertos, Still@Life exhilarated when its frozen tableaux began to move – a solid dissolving, a mass dividing and multiplying. The voluptuous duets elaborated on this gorgeous motif of interlacing and dispersal. But then there were the apples. Tossed, passed around and bitten into, they had nothing to do with anything, including Adam and Eve. Here Lopez Ochoa’s penchant for props (in other dances, tutus as puffy clouds or bright wigs worn as masks) became a crutch.
For Silt, San Franciscan Alex Ketley treated most of the components of theatre sloppily. The soundtrack was a senseless pile-up. The dancers, when not dancing, sat and stared as if waiting their turn at the unemployment office. Plus, there was no overarching or underlying drama, simply solos and duets. And yet they sufficed. The dancers created drama out of the oddly beautiful forms to which they gave muscular impulse – blooming from their fingers, squeezed from their haunches, yielding unforeseen partnerships. Silt relied on what the dancers found in themselves as dancers. The women – impassive, deeply rooted Chloe Felesina, Jaime Lennon and Allison Walsh – found a great deal. They may be BalletX’s greatest asset.
Company co-director Matthew Neenan has also made a name for himself as Pennsylvania Ballet’s resident choreographer, so I was surprised it took almost half the medley of tunes by the Balkan-brassed, angel-voiced band Beirut for Neenan’s Last Glass to set its wise terms. Maybe, though, the only way he could show two contradictory phenomena – sorrows circulating inside our heads while the parade of life passes outside – was to keep the structural screws loose.
All in all, a fetchingly scrappy start to a bright idea of a festival.