By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer
BalletX opened its fifth season at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday with a triple bill sparkling with surprising and lovely performances by company newcomers and more-senior members. A new initiative backed by the Knight Foundation and Wells Fargo included intermission entertainment that kept the excitement going. During the first, the Conestoga Angels Precision Marching Drum Corps shook things up by marching down and taking the Wilma stage with stomping, rib-pumping drills and bold-as-brass drumming.
It was like taking an expansive breath between the show’s two dark opening numbers. The first, Two Ears, One Mouth, a world premiere by up-and-coming choreographer Loni Landon, evoked a steamy after-hours street scene, with clubgoers in confrontations that spun out in backbends. In one beautiful phrase, new member Barry Kerollis gorgeously curled his fingers into a fist, then bobbed his head three times as he ducked under Anitra N. Keegan’s waiting upraised leg. Kerollis knew where to go but the work didn’t always.
Alex Ketley’s Silt (2009) looked more solid on second viewing than the title implied. Keegan and Kerollis started with exaggerated studio poses, while the other dancers sat around, observing. Veteran X-er Tara Keating and newcomer William Cannon clipped their movements short to metronomic music. In the second section the movement became more attenuated, the women’s arms went ribbony. Keating’s solo opened the final section to a plinking piano piece by Arvo Pärt, soon stomping to it with Cannon and the others. Colby Damon and Laura Feig ended it with a duet of compressed passion.
The entr’acte here was First Person Arts winner R. Eric Thomas, talking about moving to Philly because “everybody here has it in them, and that’s freedom!”
Matthew Neenan went to the Andrew Jackson School in South Philly for inspiration for the first installment of an education venture funded by the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum. For it, he and his musical collaborator, Robert Maggio, created a charming and strong work called Jackson Sounds. A little video of the kids they worked with set the stage, including a song an Asian student sang that later became Maggio’s theme and variations for two live cellists, Jie Jin and Thomas Kraines, upstage center.
The five women en pointe and in Martha Chamberlain’s adorable flirty skirts toyed with the company’s five men, including marvelous Jesse Sani and Adam Hundt. Their interplay shows that BalletX, even when fooling around with its schoolyard playmates, is quite grown up.