Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and love is in the air. Late last month, BalletX held an open rehearsal at the Performance Garage that let an audience in on the preparation of James Gregg’s interpretation of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” one of the pieces slated for performance in BalletX’s Winter Series, opening next Wednesday, Feb 12.
L is for the way you look at me / O is for the only one I see / V is very, very extraordinary / E is even more than anyone that you adore can, Cole croons, while the small but dynamic company executes complex line merges and feats of flexibility that you’re almost certain are going to yield a foot to the head. Love is all that I can give to you / Love is more than just a game for two.
There will be some duets at BalletX, no doubt. But they’re not all lovey-dovey. Joshua Peugh, Gregg’s choreography counterpart, says clichéd sweetness needn’t be the takeaway of a dance program that happens to run through Valentine’s Day. “We’re interested in the human aspects of love and how they all feel different,” he says. “Sometimes it’s distance; sometimes it’s giving people space to strug-gle, sometimes it’s supporting someone.”
On this night, audiences are treated to four pieces: two from Peugh (the company premiere of Slump and a world premiere pas de deux), a world premiere from Gregg and an encore of Jodie Gates’ Delicate Balance. BalletX takes pride in every season providing some world premieres, though, and Christine Cox, the company’s co-artistic and executive director, lets the choreographers’ work speak for itself. “BalletX presents almost exclusively world-premiere choreography, so we often have very little clue what a program will look like,” she says. “James has been on our radar for quite some time, and we felt his choreographic style would work well on our dancers. Joshua came recommended by another choreographer who has created a couple of works for BalletX, and we fell in love with one of the ballets in his choreographic reel.”
A pleasant mixed bag of tones, styles, sounds and dynamics should only bolster the dynamism of BalletX’s young, capable cast of dancers. The music will run from Klezmer music to jazz from Ella Fitzgerald, mambo, and yes, King Cole’s iconic love song.
Duets will certainly be employed, but again, neither Gregg nor Peugh—who sat with me at the edge of the stage tucked away on Brandywine Street—are interested in the mundane. This winter, they’re pushing these dancers, their raw material, to articulate their vision and express it in a certain way. But always with room for a little bit of themselves.
“They’re all wonderful. The coolest thing for me is that they’re so different,” says Peugh, who serves as artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Company in Dallas, TX. “They’re all very hungry; they have good instincts; they have their own story, and they’re ready to share. And that’s really fun for a choreographer.”
Gregg expressed a pet peeve that visually connects to the way he choreographs: That awkward footwork of the man dancing behind a woman.
“I always hated seeing the shift of feet behind the girl, so I make it a purpose to not see one foot kind of shifting, and it’s harder for partners,” said the Ballets Jazz de Montreal dancer. In his duets, the male dancers make stunning lines by almost never letting their second foot touch the ground, forcing partners to execute steady lines with the support and physical assistance of their counterpart.
Cox seems confident in her chosen collaborators, partly because they are right in line with nature of BalletX. “We look for choreographers to move dancers in new and different ways,” she says. “We expect them to think outside of traditional partnering and styles, and that’s why we often choose certain choreographers. I want to always be surprised and thrilled when I see work created for our dancers.”
BalletX Winter Series 2014 runs Wed., Feb. 12 through Sun., Feb. 16. Various times. $22-$35. The Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. 215.546.7824. balletx.org