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Kerry Clawson  |  October 06, 2013

BalletX performance makes big impression on Akron audience

The experimental BalletX dance company performed three starkly different works in its Northeast Ohio debut Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall, with the most accessible dance being The Last Glass, a joyful celebration set to the passionate, rowdy, high-spirited music of American indie-rock band Beirut.

The sold-out crowd at the University of Akron leapt to its feet for a standing ovation after The Last Glass, which ended the performance on a wonderfully lusty note.

Choreographer Matthew Neenan, co-artistic director for BalletX of Philadelphia, has taken eight songs from Beirut's album The Flying Club Cup that together sound like the music is almost careering out of control with its street parade sound. The full company creates the impression of wild freedom in this hearty yet nevertheless meticulously executed dance, which Neenan created in 2010.

Chloe Felesina, dressed in tan pantaloons and top that look like underclothes, is the outsider in this celebration, a solitary sad figure who moves with her shoulders hunched and her arms up near her shoulders, as if comforting herself. She brightens up when she pairs with William Cannon, who rubs her cheeks to make her smile. In surprising shifts in movement, they do a graceful dolphin dive on the floor together, break-dance style. We can believe he is the man of her dreams.

He leaves, she is sad again, and when they reconnect, as she reaches to kiss him, he runs off with the group.

This dance, which portrays a wild lust for life, has the full company dancing as five couples. Among them are fighting couple Richard Villaverde and Jaime Lennon, she wearing a flounced white party dress, struggling against him by kicking her legs out during lifts and making fists.

At the other extreme, Zachary Kapeluck and Francesca Forcella are closely in tune as a couple as she dances prettily on pointe. The dancers throw themselves into this high-energy street parade that grows in momentum, aided by the sounds of full-blooded brass.

To the carnival-sounding tune Elephant Gun, dancers rotate as couples in a line from right to left and Cannon joins the line with an invisible partner. Felesina, center stage in front of the parade, is shut out of the group festivities, but we see from her secret smile that this may be by design.

Much more difficult to digest was Alex Ketley's 2009 Silt, which started out with more than a minute of complete silence as two dancers gesticulated fervently with their arms as four others sat in near darkness. This dark, slow, modern dance changed as soon as the music started, with dancers Lennon and Villaverde instantly responding to each other in a much more sensual manner.

The musical soundscape was bizarre in this piece, with classical vocals set to a techno beat and a third, faint recording superimposed on both.

Odd repetitive movements included a wave of the arm from the elbow, a step forward with one foot and a hitch of the skirt. One dancer looked as if she was climbing up another's leg, and Andrea Yorita executed a cool, flat-footed arabesque while hanging onto Jesse Sani's waist backward with both arms.

Silt is a challenge to watch, and that's what BalletX wants for its audiences. This company, which is devoted almost solely to new works created for BalletX, has given 35 world premieres in its seven years and is committed to presenting new, experimental work.

A frolicsome, much easier to digest piece was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 2008 Still@Life, which had eight dancers posing en masse and then slowly coming to life in homage to Michelangelo's sculptures and paintings. The fun-loving dance, set to the music of Bach and Wassenaer, had a beautiful symmetry as both males and females danced in black skirts and vests.

Little by little, new elements of color were added to the dance with a dancer's top, vest or skirt, and by the end, a riot of color had broken out. Still@Life had humor, too, as dancers slapped their thighs and threw green apples to each other, sometimes putting them in their mouths in this still life run amuck.

You can count on getting a vast variety of tastes in a BalletX program. On Saturday, Still@Life was entertaining but the brilliant The Last Glass will remain indelible in Akron audience members' memories.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or

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