One of the beauties of the repertory company is the opportunity to highlight a diverse range of choreography from different creative voices within one program. The World Music/CRASHarts presentation of Philadelphia-based BalletX at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston Saturday night is an excellent case in point. The evening of three Boston premieres opened with a playful romp, closed with a stark drama, and framed an elegant abstract ballet in between. And throughout, the program showcased dancers as personable, eloquent, and technically skilled as they are versatile.
Cayetano Soto choreographed his “Schachmatt” (the title means checkmate in German) as “a game between reasoning and feeling.” The game set-up is reflected in a black and white checkerboard floor, with the 10 dancers uniformly costumed as fabulously sleek, campy jockeys in very short shorts. As the music spooled through an offbeat series of musical numbers, from “The Peter Gunn Theme” to Perez Prado’s “Cuban Mambo,” the ensemble paraded through tight stylized formations. Sharp, angular gestures punctuated tiptoe prances and squat walks. Backs arched, pelvises thrust, hips swiveled, shoulders waggled, and fingers splayed. Moments of partnering created some striking, often amusingly inelegant shapes, with limbs jutting into the air or through another’s legs, and it was all unleashed with face front, play-to-the-crowd aplomb and polish. Not much subtlety, but a cute crowd-pleaser.
The dramatic tone of Nicolo Fonte’s “Steep Drop, Euphoric,” given its world premiere just this past February, is largely set by the music — stark, moody string pieces by Ezio Bosso and Ólafur Arnalds. A white floor-to-ceiling column of fabric suggests an altar or perhaps a light-filled portal, its drape echoed in the dancers’ pastel costumes, constructed with flowing streamers. As one dancer stands at the base of the column, the others line up on the diagonal facing her, as if embarking on some kind of communal rite. But amid the angsty group writhing and surging lunges, dancers slowly start to connect on a more intimate level. Tempestuous duets emerge. At one pivotal point, Chloe Perkes begins to roll out the fabric column to create an illuminated pathway across the floor, unfurling a gorgeously molten solo of beseeching stretches and extensions as she goes. The final group section coheres into movement of cascading momentum, with long-lined jetés, arabesques, and lifts sending legs slicing great arcs in the air. In the final tableau, the group amasses to lift Perkes up, reaching toward the rafters, as if that portal of light is beckoning them all in.
In between those two works was the evening’s jewel. Matthew Neenan, who co-founded the company in 2005 with current artistic and executive director Christine Cox, set his “Increasing” to the first movement of Schubert’s glowing String Quintet in C Major. His intention, he noted in the program, was to create a work springing entirely from the music, paralleling its “playful richness and intensity.” And “Increasing” is, in fact, deeply musical, beautifully phrased to match the work’s internal structure. Contemporary in style but balletically classical in its foundational rigor, the work surges on the ebb and flow of Schubert’s score, spilling across the stage with unabashed lyricism, yet inflected with a lighthearted, quirky undertone. A gentle tap on the arm between dancers sets off a flurry of sweeping turns and buoyant leaps. Feet trace quicksilver steps with brisk articulation, sharply pointing one moment, flexing the next. Extensions rise as if lifted by currents. Energy softly ripples and coils through limbs and torsos, then just as quickly flares into a microburst of dynamic intensity and brilliant clarity. Breath caught, breath released.
At the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Saturday night