For the first time maybe ever, ballet fans were torn this weekend in deciding between the Joffrey’s season opener Stories in Motion and The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. The Dance Center isn’t exactly a reputed venue for ballet, which makes the Chicago premiere of Philadelphia-based BalletX all the more exciting.
Having previously seen BalletX in St. Louis two years ago, I knew BalletX would be pretty amazing. In fact, I was so blown away by what I saw that night that I was inspired to write my first ever review. I think we’ve all come a long way in two years, but at the risk of embarrassing myself, this quote from that maiden voyage in criticism still seems to apply:
[BalletX]’s interpretation of the sometimes confused and rarely effective emergence of contemporary ballet is exquisite, and the whole package of technical panache, innovative choreography, subtle costuming and brilliant lighting made for an evening I won’t soon forget.
More than just “lights and tights,” BalletX is proof that ballet is not dead, at least not in Philadelphia. I expected gorgeous technique and innovative, intricate choreography with a unique blend of old and new. I expected top-level production value, and on all points BalletX delivered last Thursday. What I didn’t expect was personality, humor, and perfect unison. The program notes don’t specify a rehearsal director, but s/he deserves a medal.
The first piece, Slump, was the jewel of the night. Deadpan stares to the audience and each other give the dancers some respite from the zany 50’s cocktail party unfolding. A comment on human mating rituals, Slump is boys v. girls a lot, and the girls usually win (as it should be). Joshua L. Peugh’s cheeky choreography evoked memories of the now buried early jewels of Gustavo Ramirez Sansano such as Luna de Miel and Flabbergast.
The more serious Delicate Balance is a two-year-old full company piece that shows of the beautiful lines and pure technique of this phenomenal group of dancers – who, by the way, could teach every dancer a lesson on how to be “on your leg.” Had the work been shown at the Harris, or the Auditorium, its patterns and spatial arrangements would have read beautifully. Being at the Dance Center, 25 feet from the dancers, audience members were in the thick of it – in the muck with them. This suited the work’s theme of embracing chaos – farther away and it might have seemed more organized and plain. A beautiful score of contemporary classical music echoes the clean soft lines of the costumes and lighting. The work ended in a gorgeous Romeo & Juliet-eque pas de deux set to Max Richter’s Nature of Daylight. The Richter tune is highly overplayed – this is perhaps the sixth work I’ve seen to in a year. Richter is the new Arvo Part, and Part was the new Samuel Barber. Delicate Balance gets a pass, however, for its 2012 vintage and beautiful use of the elegant chorale.
BalletX continues through Saturday night at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago (1306 S. Michigan Ave.). Show time is 8p.m. Tickets are $30, available at the door or online at colum.edu/dancecenterpresents.