Happy to be there, seeing 'There I Was'

Colby Damon and Andrea Yorita perform in Adam Barruch's "If the Heart Runs." ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Colby Damon and Andrea Yorita perform in Adam Barruch's "If the Heart Runs." ALEXANDER IZILIAEV
Posted: November 23, 2013

He's done it again. In There I Was, Matthew Neenan has created a new work of tremendous power, grace, and style. It's luscious, quirky, and startling - often within the space of a few seconds. And throughout, it shows off the technical prowess, dramatic skills, and individual personalities of the dancers in BalletX, which began a five-day run at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday.

I'm not convinced that the final sequence - an unsubtle antiwar message performed to Tom Waits' "Road to Peace" - really belongs here. But Neenan made me eager to see the piece again, to reexperience its dazzling duets; the deadpan Chloe Felesina, who effortlessly melds exquisite classical phrases with off-balance contemporary ones; newcomer Francesca Forcella, who draws the eye every time she picks her way across the stage; and the multitalented Colby Damon, a dancer whose superb (live) guitar playing and acting tie the work together.

BalletX's program begins with two other world premieres, by a pair of talented choreographers. If the Heart Runs is Adam Barruch's fascinating study of interpersonal relationships, represented by the slow, sustained movement of intertwined, black-clad figures (courtesy of costumer Reid Bartelme). The dramatic lighting was designed by Drew Billiau, with pulsating music by Roarke Menzies. Barruch is especially good at showcasing the dancers' flexible upper backs and liquid arms.

Heedful Needful, the new work by Gabrielle Lamb set mainly to piano music by Philip Glass, also emphasizes sustained movement, but with a lighter mood - assisted by the designs of Bartelme and Billiau. Three couples represent a variety of character types and movement styles, and Caili Quan is outstanding.

Program order inevitably affects one's impression of the pieces on a multipart bill. So, because There I Was was last, because both Barruch and Lamb had the dancers wear black socks (no shoes), and because he is so inventive,  Neenan made the very idea of pointe work seem new and exciting.


Through Sunday at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. There is also a lecture-demonstration Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ($5, including pizza and beer). Tickets: $22-$40. Information: 215-546-7824, www.wilmatheater.org.

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