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DANCECleveland opens season with BalletX at E.J. Thomas

9/26/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

DANCECleveland will open its season with a performance by BalletX Oct. 5 at E.J. Thomas Hall. Shown are Allison Walsh and William Cannon.
Photo: Alexander Iziliaev; courtesy of DANCE-Cleveland
DOWNTOWN AKRON — For some years now, DANCECleveland has been working in cooperation with The University of Akron (UA) and E.J. Thomas Hall to showcase stellar current dance companies in the Akron area. It will do so again when it opens its season with BalletX, Philadelphia’s contemporary ballet company, Oct. 5.

One of the benefits for the dance company to come to Akron, said co-founder and co-artistic director Matthew Neenan, is the opportunity to use the dance facilities at UA and take a week to work on something new while holding classes for dance students. The BalletX performance will be preceded by a week of educational programming by the company with students from UA’s School of Dance and Dance Institute, as well as local dance students and students from Firestone High School and Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

BalletX is known for its large and varied repertory. Neenan said since 2005, when the company began, it has amassed about 35 to 40 ballets and will add six new ones this year for the 10 dancers who make up BalletX.

When the company began, Neenan said, he and Co-Artistic Director Christine Cox did most of the choreography. That happened in part because of how the company was formed. Both danced for the Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia. During time off, they were looking around for something to do. At first, they created a work and entered it into a local fringe festival. They received a good response, Neenan said, and “the next they knew, they had a dance company.”

It helped, Neenan added, that they were also filling a void for an audience that was there for new work, for contemporary dance, and for something more akin to dance-theater. BalletX filled the bill, he said.

The three-ballet program this group will perform include: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Still@Life, Alex Ketley’s “Silt” and Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” which is one they presented recently at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

“Silt” is the most somber of the three works, Neenan said, but the presenter at the Joyce Theater asked specifically for it. The other two works will balance it, or in Neenan’s words, BalletX has the evening’s program “bookended with livelier works.”

In its performance at the Joyce Theater, Ketley’s “Silt” got mixed reviews — negative for quirky gestures atop classical ballet moves, as though in antithesis, and positive for the way the ballet seemed to act as the norm for characters attempting to define themselves, sometimes in terms of others, and sometimes alone. Other dancers apparently act as spectators as individuals attempt in dance terms to work themselves out emotionally.

Ochoa’s work incorporates apples into the choreography — again getting mixed reaction, but the notion of developing a work around the life and statues of Michelangelo with baroque music in the background against balletic ease from the dancers seemed to gather definition as the work proceeded.

Neenan’s “The Last Glass” has met with successful reviews in its performance history. Neenan said the dance has become a “staple” of the company, a kind of signature work. During the course of its history, it has gone through three or four cast changes, with only one original dancer in the current version.

The work, said Neenan, has “evolved with new dancers,” that is, with them bringing something new to the choreography through, as he put it, giving “new life to the curve of the roles.”

Set to about eight tunes by the indie-rock group Beirut, the work has light and lively dancing, but, Neenan added, a “dark undertone,” namely, “grief.”

After BalletX, DANCECleveland has several shows lined up for performances at the Ohio Theatre at 8 p.m., including: the Paul Taylor Dance Company Nov. 9, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Jan. 25-26, the Trisha Brown Dance Company March 18 and Jessica Lang Dance April 12. For more details, visit www.dancecleveland.org.

Tickets for the BalletX show start at $10 and can be purchased at the E.J. Thomas Hall Box Office, by calling 330-972-7570 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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