By Alastair Macaulay
PHILADELPHIA — The choreographer Matthew Neenan has created ballets across the United States. In 2009, he was the grand-prize winner in Sacramento Ballet’s Capital Choreography Competition; I’ve seen premieres by him in Vail, Colo., and Memphis. Read More...
By Alastair Macaulay
VAIL, Colo. — The choreographer Matthew Neenan seems to be one of the strange originals of American ballet. To judge from the works of his I’ve seen, he’s not remotely preoccupied by ballet’s virtuosity, hierarchy or orthodoxy. His taste in music includes pop, commissioned scores and classical music of the last two centuries. He makes dancers look vulnerable, openhearted and, above all, marvelously free. And he uses music to release different social and psychological layers in them. In consequence, his stage worlds, at their best, begin to have the complex reality of novels or plays. Read More...
By Susan Reiter
In the case of the opening-night troupe, the Philadelphia-based BalletX, a weak first half consisting of arid and dutiful works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Alex Ketley made the closing work—artistic director Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass—all the more invigorating. Neenan clearly takes direct inspiration from the music (an inspired selection of robust and varied songs by the indie-rock band Beirut) and his 10 dancers. Read More...
By Heather Wisner
Matthew Neenan’s At the Border, which debuted at Pennsylvania Ballet in 2009, brought the evening to a brisk close. Set to John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction, it opened with lines of dancers sprinting across the stage. Tempo-wise, it never really let up, from wiggly bourrées to frog-like jumps and a dancer who exited by flinging himself off the stage, only to be thrown back on in a crumpled heap. Read More...
By Robert Greskovic
Philadelphia's Ballet X, led by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, presented a triple bill that was for the most part lackluster, rescued only by a bright and richly detailed finale, "The Last Glass." This 2010 ballet, choreographed by Mr. Neenan, takes inspiration from what his program note calls "the wild street-parade sound of American indie-rock band Beruit." Read More...
Fancifully costumed by Martha Chamberlain and appealingly lighted by Drew Billiau, Mr. Neenan's parade—suggesting both individual personalities and shared, communal spirits—featured 10 eager dancers and their evident ballet schooling, with moves veering from pedestrian locomotion to formal, athletic ones. Nowhere else in the festival's first week was pointework shown more expertly and effectively. Though Mr. Neenan works only a couple of his female dancers on pointe, their piquant dancing acted like sparks highlighting his breezy and fluid parade.
By Nancy G. Heller
He's done it again. In There I Was, Matthew Neenan has created a new work of tremendous power, grace, and style. It's luscious, quirky, and startling - often within the space of a few seconds. And throughout, it shows off the technical prowess, dramatic skills, and individual personalities of the dancers in BalletX, which began a five-day run at the Wilma Theater on Wednesday. Read More...
I'm not convinced that the final sequence - an unsubtle antiwar message performed to Tom Waits' "Road to Peace" - really belongs here. But Neenan made me eager to see the piece again, to reexperience its dazzling duets; the deadpan Chloe Felesina, who effortlessly melds exquisite classical phrases with off-balance contemporary ones; newcomer Francesca Forcella, who draws the eye every time she picks her way across the stage; and the multitalented Colby Damon, a dancer whose superb (live) guitar playing and acting tie the work together.
Program order inevitably affects one's impression of the pieces on a multipart bill. So, because There I Was was last, because both Barruch and Lamb had the dancers wear black socks (no shoes), and because he is so inventive, Neenan made the very idea of pointe work seem new and exciting.
By Alastair Macaulay
The program began strongly with Mr. Neenan's "Switch Phase," in which four men and four women from BalletX display what might be called a modern folk style. The folk quality comes from the way the dancers suggest a community and their response to a selection of music for string quartet. The dance style, appealing, combines idiosyncratic arm gestures, a powerfully bending use of the torso, lively ballet legwork and many different uses of the floor. Read More...
By Alastair Macaulay
No one knows where ballet is headed. Onstage, it can't be preserved as if in aspic. Many of us have already seen it change considerably in our lifetimes; it's likely that more changes will follow. Read More...
So I applaud, in principle, the Joyce Theater’s Ballet v6.0 festival, featuring six experimental ballet companies, which runs through Aug. 17. This gives us a chance to see different styles in ballet today, and to see many of the questions that some of the less-renowned modern choreographers are asking about this old art form. We probably won’t like many of the answers, but there will be a range of them.
The season opened on Tuesday and Wednesday with three pieces danced by BalletX, a contemporary ballet company based in Philadelphia and directed by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan. Little of Mr. Neenan’s work has been seen in New York; until now, my best experiences of it have been elsewhere. But his ensemble piece at the Joyce, “The Last Glass” (2010), did much to confirm that he has one of the most appealing and singular choreographic voices in ballet today.
What’s striking is that he loves ballet without adopting the academic posiness that so often characterizes it. His dancers in “The Last Glass” are informal characters; they really dance — giving the impression of utter freedom, though actually judging everything very finely. The music, eight songs by the band Beirut from the album “The Flying Club Cup” (2007), is intensely lyrical indie-rock. “The Last Glass” catches both the music’s dance current and its yearning.
We see too few ballets making something both serious and passionate to the pop music of our time. As when Twyla Tharp linked ballet to the Beach Boys in the 1970s in “Deuce Coupe,” it does the whole scene good when an important choreographer makes the connection. Mr. Neenan, like Trey McIntyre (notably in “Oh, Inverted World,” his 2010 work for the Smuin Ballet, which danced it at the Joyce last summer) is among the foremost of those pursuing this vein.
There are 10 dancers; the opening tableau prepares us for something about a group containing loners and couples, but now that I’ve seen it once, I’d love to watch it again to get a better sense of Mr. Neenan’s construction. We’re shown three couples in particular, one after the other, but — we gradually realize — the third isn’t quite real. Most of the time, the woman doesn’t see the man; he’s the boyfriend of her dreams, and when she looks at him and tries to kiss him, he vanishes. Then we realize that this gesture, of the near-kiss into thin air, has been a motif of hers all along. The work ends by suggesting that this fantasy doesn’t frustrate her; it’s what she wants.
But much of the feeling is expressed not in gestures but in the language of renversés, retirés, petits développés, cabrioles. And the 10 dancers of BalletX perform these with startling spontaneity and urgency. Dancing is the central subject here; the characterizations and situations, though memorable, are secondary.
I should applaud the fact that this triple bill has variety; but I have little gratitude for the first of the other works, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Still@Life,” and less for the next one, Alex Ketley’s “Silt.” It’s probably better to watch “Still@Life” (2008) without having read the program note about its following Michelangelo’s career and its bringing to life his frozen paintings and sculptures.
Apples and kilts and changing costume color schemes are used as gimmickry; the Baroque music, by Bach and Wassenaer, is used exploitatively — and on Wednesday was considerably overamplified. Ms. Lopez Ochoa adopts some of ballet’s formal constructions — not just steps but formats like supported adagio and symmetrical formations for soloist and ensemble. The dancers are lively, engaged, but the tone is unseriously modish.
The tone of “Silt” (2009) is at once desperately serious and absurdist. Isolated gestures — women hitch up black petticoats to the hip, a dancer extends a foot just off the floor — are recycled as serious motifs whose meaning is never developed. Women respond to men with immediately sexed-up lifts in duets that go nowhere.
“Silt” belongs to the school of William Forsythe, and, like most of his works, creates an unreal anti-world characterized by harsh lighting from above (by Drew Billiau) that leaves areas of the stage in darkness.
But those two pieces, each insubstantial while laden with surface attitudinizing, occurred before the intermission. The effect that Mr. Neenan’s “Last Glass” has on its audience is infectious and immediate. It creates a world both social and psychological, public and private, and it connects ballet to the language of today movingly.
By Alastair Macaulay
MEMPHIS — The Mississippi River, famous in song and literature, has also inspired choreography. At the end of Kansas City Ballet's "Tom Sawyer," new last year, the dancers embodied it. Now Ballet Memphis has taken up the theme with "The River Project," a triple bill of new ballets honoring the Mississippi's cultural importance. Read More...
On paper Ballet Memphis often looks like one of the country’s most enterprising companies. I wish, for example, that I had been able to see its 2011 spring program of works, all by female choreographers; and the company is among the few directed and founded by a woman, Dorothy Gunther Pugh. Its current season is called “Taking Flight” and Ms. Pugh plans to follow the “River Project” with other works about the connections between American culture and the American environment.
An introductory film suggests that the plan for these three new ballets was to reflect three zones through which the river passes: one ballet (Steven McMahon’s “Confluence”) on the central area around Memphis, one on the Delta and New Orleans (Julia Adam’s “Second Line”), and another on — what? This third ballet (Matthew Neenan’s “Party of the Year”) proved the least obviously river-connected: its setting was a party in Los Angeles. This didn’t make it a disappointment, however. Instead, it was both the evening’s biggest hit and one of the most beguiling new American ballets of our day.
All three works are set to musical collages, reflecting diverse heritages and histories. The score for Mr. McMahon’s “Confluence” ranges from part of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony to Mahalia Jackson’s recording of “In the Upper Room” to Mavis Staples’s “Don’t Knock.” The stage action is introduced by a lone woman (Virginia Pilgrim), whose role is ambiguous: she may be the river, or the subsequent dances may be her memory. “Confluence” has lyricism and complexity; it suggests the passage of time and the growth of a local culture. It’s a little nebulous over all, but there’s real dance-making skill here.
Ms. Adam’s “Second Line” tries to catch the Delta’s overlap of historical periods and its changes of civilization. Characters in baroque attire do some un-baroque things. (Women kneel so that men can swing their legs over the women’s heads.) Later we have some bare-chested men and more overtly modern behavior. The music includes Rameau’s “Fêtes d’Hébé,” a Louisiana folk song and a traditional Haitian song, and ends with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” At all points, the result is too diffuse.
Mr. Neenan’s “Party of the Year,” subtitled “Victoria Avenue, CA,
12/25/70,” is a success despite apparent odds. It has seemingly nothing to do with the Mississippi River; a program note says it’s about a birthday bash on Christmas 1970 for a person in Isabel Wilkerson’s book “The Warmth of Other Suns.” This context promises characters and experiences that the ballet doesn’t give us. But there is a piercing image, first shown in the introductory film, that becomes a core motif.
The party is on the skids, and the pivotal character, danced by Rachel Shumake, has had more than a few too many from the start. The repeated sequence that makes such an impression is when Ms. Shumake slowly, heavily walks forward on flat feet, her head lifting and her throat visibly tense; then, with a contraction, her torso lurches right forward.
By the time you’ve seen it twice, it clearly depicts a woman who knows with alarm that she’s about to throw up. This could so nearly be gross — but its slightly stylized quality and its choreographic exactness makes it haunting, like a moment you’ve known yourself. Then, when it returns, at later stages of the party, it’s shown from other angles. The fourth and final time it’s given a change of inflection.
This is a party that’s merrily crumbling into near-chaos. The situation is explored through many different aspects — comedy, shame, poignancy, anxiety, energy — and a wealth of different characters. The final twist is that the most drunk character is transformed to a new exaltation of spirit. This is not at all the ballet suggested by Mr. Neenan’s program note or Ms. Pugh’s advance announcement — but so what? I loved it.
Straightaway Ms. Shumake seemed detached from the party; she’s present but alien. The music’s progression is from jazz (Nat King Cole), blues (Albert King, perhaps the most specifically Memphian music of the evening) and soul (Ray Charles) to (folk) Joni Mitchell. And, though the party seems to occur in one place with one set of people, this change of score takes us on a migration through America. When we reach Ms. Mitchell’s “California,” Ms. Shumake has survived more than one ordeal: she looks released and to have found her home.
The party is all dancing and all delicious. Couples and threesomes succeeding one another, exuberant and socializing and intimate. The mixture of ballet, social dance and individual tics of behavior is irresistible, the footwork has point and detail, and the rich tiltings of torsos are juicy in the extreme. Some women spend some of the time supporting their men; this is a society in which men and women keep discovering new things about each other.
The beauty of Ms. Mitchell’s singing brings the ballet to an extraordinary climax; and Mr. Neenan’s choreography matches it, as Ms. Shumake becomes expansive. (The other characters, though, grow increasingly floorbound.) This is the second exciting new work by Mr. Neenan I’ve seen in three months. (“Switch Phrase,” for Ballet X, was seen in August at the Vail Festival.) He does not present himself as a pure-academic ballet classicist, but he is emerging as one of today’s foremost dance poets of American behavior and society.
By Merilyn Jackson
No matter how great the choreography, without the right dancers to breathe life into it, a dance can go flat as a souffle when the oven door is opened too soon.
No worries at the Wilma Theater Wednesday night when BalletX opened its summer run. All 10 of the company's current lineup whipped themselves to great heights and sustained excellence. Read More...
Guest choreographer Matthew Prescott set his airy opening number Journey of the Day (a world premiere) to Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer's Appalachian Journey.
The sensual Tara Keating has been with the company since it began five years ago, but missed the company's spring run due to injury. It was good to see her back doing little happy dances en pointe and being silly with Laura Feig and Jennifer Goodman in a girly gossipfest. Kevin Yee-Chan and Colby Damon traded twirls and cheery jumps to an Irish-inflected section of the music, ending in a contact-improv duet. The exuberant bluegrass-redux dance closed with all seven dancers crossing arms over shoulders, their backs to the audience and spinning off like tops.
For the other world premiere, The Last Glass , Matthew Neenan used eight songs from Zach Condon's Indie Beirut band, whose blaring brass has been described as a global mash-up of forged Gypsy and other musics.
Condon's voice is pitched somewhere between David Byrne and Rufus Wainwright , whose songs Neenan used in his wonderful 11:11 for Pennsylvania Ballet, where he is resident choreographer.
Neenan's choreography matched the music's mash-up, but even more globally with merengue, salsa, Balkan folk steps, and militaristic salutes alternating with soft balletic arm sweeps.
Martha Chamberlain's adorable costumes - ruffled panties, pantaloons, beribboned hair, and cotton candy-colored pointe shoes - evoked an era of youthful innocence.
Moodier tensions appeared with Anitra Keegan in a three-tiered skirt being spun in a death spiral. All the dancers at times stabbed at the floor with one toe while skipping playfully. But the dark element often underscoring Neenan's work here suggested the 1930s in old Havana or Weimar Germany. Alone outside the curtain as it falls on her friends, Chloe Horne leaves us with a sense of foreboding or nostalgia.
In Adam Hoagland's 2007 requiem-like Risk of Flight, eight shadowy dancers leaned toward hard light from the wings and broke into motion that at times felt mournful. Its difficult half-lifts and turns ended as if in stop motion. The somber relationship-study nicely bridged the two frothier premieres.
By Ellen Dunkel
Matthew Neenan doesn't just make his dancers look good. He makes them better.
Keep, the latest piece by Pennsylvania Ballet's choreographer-in-residence, is on a program with two other dances - Robert Weiss' Octet for Strings, and Five Tangos by Hans van Manen. But only in the Neenan ballet did the dancers really attack the steps Wednesday night at the Merriam Theater. Read More...
By Ellen Dunkel
Every time I see BalletX, I get a surprise. And Thursday night at the Wilma Theater, the surprise was maturity.
Just since July, when the three-year-old company last performed here, it has grown into its own. The dancers look certain and strong, the ballets fresh and well-suited to the troupe.
Co-artistic director Matthew Neenan choreographed two of the three pieces on the program, and his work has come a long way, as well. Neenan sets his dance on many levels; the dancers spend a lot of time sitting or lying on the floor, standing or jumping, or balancing in the arms of another dancer, in a lift. Read More...
By Jennifer Dunning
Mr. Neenan, the company’s resident choreographer, has a freshly imaginative way with movement and an eye for fresh stage pictures. His “Carmina Burana” tries to re-envision the music, based on 11th- to 13th-century songs of debauchery Read More...
By Jennifer Dunning
Matthew Neenan’s new “Game Two,” set to Bizet, offered yet more proof of Mr. Neenan’s bright, imaginative way with classical ballet. It also offered its six dancers a chance to race through technically challenging, well-ordered choreography filled with juicy life. But it seemed an odd item among these revivals, on a program that also included piano playing by Noriko Suzuki.
By Susan Reiter
Matthew Neenan's "As It's Going," created for the company last year, unfolded as a series of seven often quirkily surprising but always musically fluent sections set to well-chosen Shostakovich chamber music. Neenan, who danced with the company for thirteen years and is now its resident choreographer, has a gift for bold and unexpected use of the stage space and -- wonder of wonders -- a keen ability to bring each section to a close in a manner that is arresting, often wittily so. Read More...
By Hilary Ostlere
Resident choreographer Matthew Neenan’s "As It’s Going" had the immediate advantage of Shostakovitch’s gentle, quiet, sometimes melancholy chamber pieces, six in all. The choreography had enough quirkiness – flexed feet, some odd-looking floorwork, unusual lifts – to give it strong individuality, but Neenan doesn’t overdo it. It flows, with the dancers coming and going in trios or duets; a quick little variation for two couples was a winner. Pleasantly lighted in blue and pale violet tones, with the costumes in blues and browns, this is a piece that varies in mood but never jars.
By Gia Kourlas
The company, now under the artistic direction of Roy Kaiser, also has a talented resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan. He presented “As It’s Going,” a bustling, athletic ensemble work set to Shostakovich and named after a 1907 poem by Anna Akhmatova.
The dance itself, which included memorable duets for Julie Diana with Mr. Torrado and for Ms. Ochoa with Francis Veyette, Read More...
By Clive Barnes
For me, the best in the first two shows were ... Matthew Neenan's stylish "11:11," splendidly given by the Pennsylvania Ballet
By Anna Kisselgoff
"Le Travail," a one-act ballet choreographed by Matthew Neenan, a 28-year-old member of the Pennsylvania Ballet, is the company's felicitous tribute to "Degas and the Dance," the current exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mr. Neenan has used that show as a springboard for motifs that are Degas-inspired but generalized further. Presented here over the weekend at the Academy of Music, "Le Travail" will not be seen again this season, but it is a viable contemporary ballet for all seasons. It is not a major work, but it goes beyond its original pretext precisely because of Mr. Neenan's creative approach to his material. Read More...
By Gus Solomons jr.
The featured attraction of the company's City Center engagement was two ballets by Neenan, who is developing into a major choreographic talent. His "As It's Going," set to various pieces for string quartet and piano by Dmitri Shostakovich, is a suite of short pieces, separated by blackouts, that manifest the deadpan wit and brisk pacing that make Neenan's dances delight. With flexed feet the women look like paper doll cutouts, getting lifted straight up in the air. Another recurring motif is chainé turning on the heels, done not as a joke but an alternative way of utilizing toe shoes. Read More...
by Deborah Jowitt
This must be Matthew Neenan's Carmina Burana. The orchestra under Beatrice Jona Affron and the members of the New York Choral Society are certainly delivering Carl Orff's ringing, thunderous music, but although press materials tell me that Neenan "envisions a simple, universal, and sensual look for the production," the first-class dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet are performing the kind of nightmare I imagine Tim Gunn having. Costume designer Oana Botez-Ban has eschewed the medieval allusions that marked John Butler's Carmina Burana (performed in the past by this company): Over flesh-colored unitards patterned with swatches resembling snakeskin, various female dancers layer—in baffling succession—long, ruffled white half-skirts; striped tops, black hats, and spoon-shaped black half-tutus; iridescent white gowns that spring open at the rear neckline into two little wings. Some men and women don transparent beige school uniforms for a spunky frolic. Read More...
By Lindsay Warner
After the tension-building musical and emotional forte of "Giselle's Room," it is surprising to hear the opening strains of Mozart in "Duet from Cali." Though choreographed by the talented Matthew Neenan, co-artistic director of BalletX with Christine Cox, "Duet" seems a rather staid example of work from Mr. Neenan, whose pieces generally tend toward the edgy and groundbreaking. Curious and sudden hand movements performed by dancer Colby Damon punctuate the classical lines of this piece, but overall, "Duet" would feel more at home in a more classical setting - but maybe that is just a reflection of the high standards for edgy, interesting work that we've come to expect from BalletX, which is certainly to Mr. Neenan and Ms. Cox's credit. Read More...
Broad Street Review
by Jim Rutter
Even without program notes, I felt no such confusion watching the two works by Ballet X co-artistic director Matthew Neenan. The company, more accustomed to Neenan’s individual style and tone, gave superb performances of both pieces.
Neenan’s playful and innocent Duet from Cali, set to Mozart’s Adagio for String Quintet, showed a pair of dancers (Rosalia Chann and Colby Damon) moving through the early stages of a summer love affair. This graceful short piece consisted of soft, flowing paired movements, danced in synchronized movements at opposite ends of the stage. Read More...
by Alexis Siemons
Second, was the American premiere of "Duet From Cali", choreographed by BalletX’s co-artistic director, Matthew Neenan, which featured dancers Rosalia Chann and Colby Damon. The movements set to Mozart suggested that of a lighthearted tryst, as the dancers conversed via body language. The costumes in this piece were noteworthy, as the traditional ballet attire was replaced with a dress shirt and pair of pants for the male dancer, and a long, flowing dress for the female dancer. Read More...
by Sarah Gormley
The first half is rounded out with the American premiere of co-Artistic Director Matthew Neenan's "Duet From Cali". A delightful piece, we find it hard to say much about it; if its only function was to ease out some of the stress from the first work it was definitely a success. It might also have been a buffer between the opening and closing works; a breather. It worked: it was fun, easy to watch, and the Mozart was soothing after the previous screeching. But it did, in retrospect, feel somewhat out of place. Still, we're not complaining: the traditional music, traditional movement, and the comedic examination of what exactly a duet is (hint, fella—you shouldn't run off!) made for an enjoyable experience. Read More...
by Merilyn Jackson
In certain roles, a dancer can break a critic's heart. Watching him or her begin to inhabit a role that seems tailor-made, growing into it over the years until it becomes a second skin can be so satisfying, a critic could overlook flaws in the performance. Fresh to The Pennsylvania Ballet 13 years ago, Matthew Neenan took his debut role as the Bugle Boy in Paul Taylor's tribute to the Andrews Sisters and our WWII veterans, "Company B". Although he danced ably, as a newbie in a company premiere he was understandably a tad unsure. Since then, he's steeped so deeply in it, I don't see who could follow him. Read More...
by Lori Ibay
The premiere of Matthew Neenan's "The Crossed Line" followed a brief intermission. Evolving from a piece Neenan developed on three couples at the New York Choreographic Institute last September, "The Crossed Line" is set to Chopin piano concertos transcribed for piano, violin, and cello and features six couples in costumes designed by principal dancer Martha Chamberlain. Read More...
by Lewis Whittington
Philadelphia has never been more frantic about a home team than the Eagles appearance at the Super Bowl this year. We lost in Jacksonville, but there was a victory at home when Pennsylvania Ballet was performing their short run of a modern program of Peter Martins' "The Waltz Project" and Twyla Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs" for a sold out run.
As it turned out, both of those famous works were sacked by the triumphant premiere of Matt Neenan's "11:11," scored to a song cycle by Rufus Wainwright. In addition to being an MVP corps member several years, Neenan is a prolific choreographer, not only creating six commissions for Pennyslvania Ballet since 2000 but also being co-founder of Phrenic New Ballet. Read More...