There is an intensity at 1923 Washington Avenue that has nothing to do with the heat that’s descended on Philadelphia and grips the rest of us in lethargy. While the heat surges outdoors, BalletX dancers sweat inside the new Center for World Premiere Choreography, working with intense concentration in rehearsal for the upcoming fall season. Shafts of light from the ceiling windows project onto the studio floor and the dancers move in and out of them, at times marking the movements and other times bursting with the same energy and intensity as though performing in front of thousands.
The music that pulses through the studio and billows upstairs toward the administrative offices as well, is fun, upbeat and has a flare of samba. The men and women are momentarily split up into two groups, and while laughter cuts through the air, there is no question to the precision and difficulty of the choreography. In fact, precision seems to be the defining word of this choreography, and the dancers at BalletX tackle it with concentration, intelligence and poise.
On one end of the room, the men stand in a line and drill a series of stationary movements that involve shifting hips and expansive, encircling arms. Each movement is exact and seemingly so simple, yet every step and inflection of the wrist or head is paired with a distinct count. As the men dance and review the choreography, they are drawn inward as they learn, focusing intently on the intricacies of the movement. But as soon as they finish reviewing together, they exchange jokes and encouragement, taking a physical and mental rest, before refocusing and going at it again. Towards the front of the room, closer to the mirrors, Tara Keating rehearses with the women, commanding the studio space with a gentle authority. Like the men’s, the women’s choreography is seemingly simple, but the choreography is so quick and sharp, and the women count out each of the difficult movement phrases. In addition to its bold and stunning specificity, the movement is also playful. It is a playfulness that is crossed with dignity and purpose, as though, once again, every finger, wrist, elbow and foot holds significance and is upheld for viewers to appreciate. The scrutiny that the dancers bring to every movement of the choreography is a reminder of how important each step and dancer is in the context of the entire piece.
After a short break, Tara switches her attention to the men and turns on the music for them to rehearse what they had been drilling at the back before the break. Although they step in and out of a line along stage left, some of the men move out into the center of the studio to dance their solos, shedding their inward focus for energetic and flamboyant gestures. They shift from the floor to the air with immense strength before executing multiple turns and pausing at the end with calm control.
It is a short segment that they rehearse, and their dancing is over far too soon when they break and take leave for lunch. But there is more to learn and more to see, and at 19th and Washington, there is no slowing down during this Philadelphia heat wave.
-Marion Kudla, Company Intern