Review: Philadelphia's BalletX Soars With New Works

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 13, 2023

"Scenes View 2"
"Scenes View 2"  

BalletX presented their vibrant Winter series program for a sellout run at their home in the Wilma Theater on Broad St. with premieres by choreographers Amy Seiwert, Gary W. Jeter II, and Jorma Elo. All three dancemakers were onstage before the performance to talk about their work with Philadelphia Dance Journal podcaster Charles Tyson.

The program opened with Jeter's "Seeds," his first ballet during his choreographic fellowship with the company. He was a member of BX for several years and before that danced with Complexions, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Philadanco. In a short film about the ballet, Jeter told the audience it was inspired by his experience as a father and husband, with themes of nurturing something unique, the universal idea as expressed choreographically by dancers Eli Alford, Shawn Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Savannah Green, Jared Kelly, Annika Kuo, Skyler Lubin, Jerard Palazo, Ben Schwarz, and Ashley Simpson. The cast enters in long hooded earthy tunics over satin pants by costume designer Martha Chamberlain, the outer layers cast off at key moments during the performance. Jeter also composed the "Seeds" music with his voiceover rap about family — "Wire-crossed Piano" "Brooklyn Noir piano" "Root and Newborn," and finishing with the jazz standard "You Taught My Heart To Sing."

Jeter's tight ensemble balletics morph into a more meditative dance expression. The rigorous ensemble sections consist of unison jumps and sculpted configurations. Shawn Cusseaux is hypnotic as he moves away from the group in solos that are both spasmodic and lyrically expressive. The ensemble passages may look overpacked with ideas in moments, but throughout display dynamic ideas.

Next, there's Amy Seiwert's comedic dance "A Long Night" a.k.a. a miniature ballet adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." It is set to The Pied Pipers, Patsy Cline, and Harry Nilsson amongst others, including Pink Martini's "Dream a Little Dream."

Puck is as rakish as ever, sprinkling his fairy dust on the double-star-crossed lovers Eli Alford, Shawn Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Skyler Lubin, and Jerard Palazo, costumed in Benjamin Burton's forest couture, except for Puck who is donning a gold sequin magic-to-do ensemble. And in a breakout role for Alford, his lithe technical artistry and witty performance are what dreams are made of.

Seiwert, based on the West Coast, is a former dancer and award-winning choreographer. Her ballets are typically non-narrative with no characterizations. This ballet has so much wit and dance charm you would never guess "A Long Night" was her first try at a story ballet.

Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo's "Scenes View 2" is an update on a work he made on BalletX in 2006, the first year co-artistic directors Matt Neenan and Christine Cox, then dancers with Pennsylvania Ballet, formed the company.

Elo's ballet looks choreographically dynamic now on this completely different BalletX cast 17 years later. It's scored to piano music by Bach, Elo's quick, sharp, ballet architecture with dance rhythms reflective of Bach's Partita for Violin's rhythmic counterpoint. Elo's and the dancers' artistry proved even more impressive in this revival. This was a thrilling closer to a program that showed range and ensemble spirit. Kudos also to Alyssandra Docherty, for her atmospheric lighting designs unique to each work.

With over 100 commissions of new works by dozens of innovative choreographers, artistic executive director Christine Cox, and Tara Keating, the associate artistic director, the troupe continues to craft the company's aesthetic template.

BalletX Winter Series | March 1-5, 2023 | The Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce St., Philadelphia, PA. For more info, check out

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.