Founded in 2005 by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, Philadelphia’s BalletX has presented more than 100 world premieres, by some 70 choreographers, half of them women. Boston was treated to four pieces from BalletX’s extensive repertory in 2016, when Global Arts Live brought the company to the Institute of Contemporary Art for its local debut, and three more when BalletX returned in 2019. Saturday, the company was back for a third visit, this time at the Cutler Emerson Majestic Theatre, as the final installment of Global Arts Live’s Winter Dance Fest. As contemporary ballet goes, the trio of Boston premieres didn’t have much new to say. But you couldn’t complain about how the dancers said it.
Justin Peck’s “Become a Mountain” (2021) was first up, and a reminder that nothing says contemporary like dancers in sneakers. A former soloist with New York City Ballet and the company’s current resident choreographer, Peck is also a former soccer player, and he teamed up with Swiss sports brand On to create “Become a Mountain” for Juilliard’s senior class of 2022. The music for the piece is Dan Deacon’s song of the same name; Peck has used it to make a snappy four-minute “Become a Mountain” dance film shot on New York’s Pier 76, but here he expands the song into a 16-minute score.
Ashley Simpson starts it off with a soft, lithe solo; the remaining 11 dancers soon enter, all in casual streetwear and sneakers, some of the men in skirts. The movement is classical, contemporary, and pedestrian — athletic ballet, with the emphasis on the athletic. When Deacon’s Philip Glass–like arpeggios kick in, the upper-body gesturing becomes frenetic; the dancers could be about to celebrate after scoring a goal. BalletX describes “Become a Mountain” as simulating the arc of a mountain climb — ascent, peak, descent — but that didn’t register at this performance. The piece, in the usual twos and threes and ensembles and people up and down and on and off, builds to the point where everyone busts out his or her best stuff, after which they walk downstage toward us, as if to take a graduation bow. The dancers haven’t climbed a mountain; they’ve become one.
Neenan’s “Credo” (2016) was inspired by the choreographer’s travels to India. This 25-minute piece has a kind of prologue set to the Adagio second movement of Haydn’s Opus 76 No. 1 String Quartet where the 10 dancers, in multicolored jumpsuits and long scarves and ballet slippers, have hand on head, as if beginning a communal ritual. Such gestures persist: placing a hand in front of the face, or making a telescope with fingers and holding it up to an eye. The dancers appear stiff-legged and two-dimensional one moment, sinuous and volumetric the next; they might be suggesting the lines of India’s architecture, or its Devanagari script. To Kevin Puts’s sober but uplifting string quartet “Credo” (which gave the dance its name), they break into fraught duets, stomp and skip this way and that, hunters or hunted, look round in wonder, all with a grace and dignity reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’s “Antique Epigraphs.” At the enigmatic end, they start to point, one by one, heavenward, while Andrea Yorita backs out in uncertainty.
Jennifer Archibald’s “Exalt” (2022) takes ballet to the club. Any doubts about the nature of the score are dispelled by a voice announcing, “And house music was born” and “This is my house.” The five men, bare-chested, wear black leather skirts over black leggings; the five women are a contrast in black leotards and pointe shoes. Pirouettes, jetés, fouettés, arabesques, cabrioles, and barrel turns are neatly integrated into the high-voltage tribal vibe; there are luxuriant developpés from the men as well as the women. The men strut on their own, the women follow, they pair off into couples. Like “Become a Mountain,” “Exalt” doesn’t have much of a narrative arc, but it’s so exultant, you might not care.
“Become a Mountain,” by Justin Peck. “Credo,” by Matthew Neenan. “Exalt,” by Jennifer Archibald. Presented by Global Arts Live. At Cutler Emerson Majestic Theatre, Saturday, Feb. 4.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.