10/1/23 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Ballet X At The Joyce

By Walter Rutledge

Philadelphia based Ballet X returned to New York City’s Joyce Theater for a five-day six performance season. The expectations were high for this ethnically diverse contemporary ballet company and the talented dancers rose to the occasion. It was unfortunate that the choreography and the programming were not able to support the performers despite their valiant efforts.

The evening had lots of good intentions, but offered very little originality, lacked advanced choreographic structural elements, and did not establish coherent dramatic narratives or clear thematic material. In other words, a lot of steps and movement phase, but no discernable beginning, middle and end.

Matthew Neenan’s Credo opened with many moments of stillness, unexplained linear tableaus upstage and extended periods of ensemble unison dancing. This was followed by the predictable second movement adagios. The partnered sections did include a myriad of cliché twists, turns and dance competition lifts.  This “everything and the kitchen sink” approach became tiresome. It quickly become a menagerie of academic tricks with no connection to his underdeveloped theme.   

Both the Haydn and Kevin Puts music were pastoral compositions. Performed live on stage, the music never reached a fevered coda pitch, instead it seemed to meager along. The protracted length of the work coupled with an elemental visual landscape made this presentation more of a dirge than the intended sonata.

Honey by Jamar Roberts consisted of a lot of the same old thing, the same old way. Here the fault also lies in the programming. Credo and Honey were both abstract narratives with similar plot twists and sound. The thematic content and slow tempo doomed his work from the start. For the second time this evening an ensemble movement open followed by lots of duets again.   

Each duets displayed dramatic facial emotions, gesture driven storytelling, and conventional modern dance partnering. The unanswered question was why?  There was nothing new or unique. At times it felt like we were watching an extension of Neenan’s Credo, only Honey was mercifully ten minutes shorter.

Exalt by Jennifer Archibald was the only work en pointe, which gave it a promising start. With a music score that blended contemporary music with house music the audience was finally audibly aroused. Since the choreography lacked a sustained and deliberate thematic and structural build the music not the movement became the driving force.

To compensate Archibald resorted to mixing ballet steps and street dance movements. Yes! It was funk. And yes! It was ballet. It just wasn’t funky ballet, which made the concept appear contrived and unoriginal.

To Archibald’s credit she did attempt to construct a coda for a big finale ending. The large ensemble moved through a long series of patterns sprinkled with solo virtuoso passages. It ended with a stagnant group of dancers dramatically gesturing to the sky while a solo dancer exits stage right. This attempt to create a profound final tableau eliminated any hope of a crescendo ending, sending the work out on a whimper instead of a roar.   

Here are three choreographic tenets worth remembering.

One: if you cannot be innovative then be inventive. If you can’t conceive a brilliant Swan Lake then work towards a meaningful Golden Pond. The muse is a very fickle mistress. She is almost as fickle as the public.

Two: all ballets are too long. (Thank you Doris Humphrey) Editing is the most essential commandment in your creative bible. Become Euclidean- “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”.  Here your two points would be intent and desired outcome.

Three: If you have nothing to say- be quiet. Sometimes when you cannot make a statement it’s better to make no statement at all- silent is golden.

In all fairness the creative process the outcome is always a crap shoot. And it is true that we do learn more from our challenges than we do from our successes. What is important is that these dancemakers continue to be  courageous. Keep creating, keep growing and keep taking risk.

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