BALLET X Misses the Music at Laguna Festival by Steven Woodruff

The Laguna Dance Festival, now in its 12th year, closed out its programming last weekend with Philadelphia’s Ballet X in a program of four works by four choreographers. They shared the week of concerts with Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion, and BODYTRAFFIC from Los Angeles. While Abraham whose company performed alone on Thursday and Friday dug in with his newest work, Pavement, another in his series of socially and politically relevant dancemaking essays dedicated to the politics of race and identity in America, Ballet X stuck with its brand of eccentric contemporary ballet in works that at times looked attractive but said little.

Much of the music for the Ballet X works promised the moon--Berg, Beethoven, Bach, Monteverdi, Mozart, and others, but especially in Jorma Elo’s Gran Partita (a cribbed Mozart title but not the music that goes with it) which opened the concert, the movement seemed stacked up willy-nilly against complex music with only flimsy connection. You could imagine that, like many of Cunningham’s dances, the music and movement vocabulary were fabricated in separate rooms and finally assembled in a clumsy effort to make sense of scores with little in common.

The piece had one good conceit: an opening of a lone dancer backing up onto the stage from the wings which was reprised three times, in each case veering off in different directions with unexpected new music. At the center of it was an affecting duo overlaid with a Monteverdi aria that ultimately seemed marooned in the wrong dance. Another section set to the Preludio from the Bach E Major Partita for violin alone (misidentified in the program as the C Major Sonata from the same collection) found only tenuous connection with the work’s frantic stream of notes and joyful demeanor but not much else. Other music for the Elo work identified in the program was missing altogether. In the end, the whole of it felt pretentious and shortchanged the exceptional music.

The other full length piece on the program, Show Me by Matthew Neenan, was a delightful off kilter and asymmetrical work that managed to feel very American --nothing else on the program did-- in its style and music. Set against the playing of Brooklyn Rider, an alt-classical American quartet, The Ballet X dancers looked and danced like updated Jazz Age hipsters in clever reworked vintage bathing costumes by Christine Darch. Worthy dancing came packaged by ones, twos, and threes in the duo by Zachary Kapeluck and Daniel Mayo, a coy and cute diversion with Andrea Yorita partnered by three men, and a backing quartet of the vivacious Edgar Anido with Chloe Felesina, Caili Quan, and Francesca Forcella. Skylar Lubin as a soloist showed refinement on pointe with exceptional style dancing on her own as well as being partnered by the company’s men. What felt natural in Neenan’s work were the easy, unaffected transitions between classical and pedestrian domains. The work as shown omitted a section of the piece that was originally set to a movement from Beethoven’s Opus 131 Quartet. Show Me may have needed more moving parts, but leaving out a thorny late Beethoven quartet movement and rolling with an American soundscape was probably a good decision.

Also on the program were a fragmental excerpt from Delicate Balance (Jodie Gates) with music by Max Richter, and a campy, underpowered and superfluous romp by choreographer Cayetano Soto, Malasange, set to the music of the 50’s and 60’s era Cuban radio singer and personality La Lupe. Both suffered from questionable inclusion in a program that would have been shorter but more polished without them. In the end the company’s dancers danced better and deserved more than the mostly decorative choreography.

Credit: Alexander Iziliaev

About the author

Steven Woodruff lives in Los Angeles where he is a professional musician, dancer, educator, and writer. His writing includes original poetry and translations as well articles on film, stage, television, and culture. He reviews dance and music covering national and international touring concert programs as well as local companies for DancePlug, DanceChannelTV, and BachTrack in the UK.