Philadelphia-based BalletX Presents New, Cutting Edge Works in its South Florida Debut

Written By Sean Erwin
March 26, 2024 at 3:37 PM

Andrea Yorita and Shawn Cusseaux in “Honey,” choreography by Jamar Roberts, will be performed when Philadelphia-based BalletX comes to the Dennis C Moss Center on Saturday, April 6. (Photo courtesy of Skye Schmidt)

An engine of innovation since its founding by Matthew Neenan and Christine Cox in 2005, Philadelphia-based BalletX has cranked out over 116 world premieres in just 18 years. Its mission is to present contemporary works by living choreographers and expand the envelope of what ballet means and who is qualified to create and perform it.

Christine Cox, the current artistic and executive director for BalletX, finds the company’s strength in its diversity. “I have an unwavering commitment to fostering a diverse company that supports the unique voices of dancers and choreographers,” she says. “Embracing a range of perspectives enriches our artistic endeavors, leading to innovative and dynamic performances that resonate with audiences worldwide.”

Ashley Simpson, Skyler Lubin, Francesca Forcella, Andrea Yorita, and Savannah Green in “Exalt,” choreography by Jennifer Archibald. (Photo courtesy of Skye Schmidt)

However, arranging the company’s South Florida debut has taken time.  “My decision to bring BalletX to Miami as part of the Moss Center dance series is the result of a relationship initiated almost a decade ago,” explains Eric Fliss, managing director of the Dennis C. Moss Center.  “(It) has provided us with the unique opportunity to showcase the innovative and impressive work of BalletX. Building and maintaining relationships with artists and companies over the years has allowed me to curate exciting programming for our audience now and in the future.”

In an art form whose most popular and frequently performed works, such as Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty, originated in the 19th century, the company will present the four works on  Saturday, April 6, created in the last three years.

The program’s showcase is “Become a Mountain” by New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck. A Tony-award-winning choreographer, director, dancer, and filmmaker, Peck has created over 50 works performed by the world’s top ballet companies, including the New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.

Peck created “Become a Mountain” for Juilliard’s Senior Class 2022, and the ballet premiered in December 2021 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in New York City.   Set to a driving minimalist score of the same name by composer and electronic musician Dan Deacon, “Become a Mountain” is a sixteen-minute, three-part work for 12 dancers.  Peck directed a four-minute film version with On Activewear (watch here on YouTube) featuring six dancers, including his wife and former Miami City Ballet principal dancer, Jeanette Delgado.

Ballet X dancer Ashley Simpson, (Photo courtesy of Vandy Photography)

The April program also includes “Umoja” (Swahili for “Unity”) by New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck (no relation to Justin Peck).   The ballet’s title comes from composer Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem for Unity,” initially written for a women’s choir before being re-arranged for orchestra in 2019.

Performed by five men and five women, trios and duets structure the 14-minute ballet as a celebration in dance. An emerging choreographic force, Peck premiered her first work with NYCB, “Concerto for Two Pianos,” just last month.  “Umoja” was the first work Peck created for BalletX, which the company debuted in July 2022.

According to Tiler Peck, “I sort of based my work off of that word (“Umoja”) and what I think the world and everyone needs right now. The music sounds very joyful. It’s about community and times when we’re together and connected. My choreography is based on that.”

Christine Cox is the current artistic director of BalletX. (Photo courtesy of Chris Kendig)

A name Miami dance audiences have heard frequently this season is Jamar Roberts, a Miami native and resident choreographer of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre from 2019 to 2022.  Roberts’ gorgeous new work, “As An Offering,” premiered with Peter London Global Dance Company in December. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performed the choreographer’s 2019 “Ode” last month during its swing through South Florida.

For the April program at the Moss, BalletX will perform “Honey,” which the company premiered in July 2022 as Roberts’ second work created for BalletX. Set to music by American jazz and classical pianist and composer Don Shirley (1927-2013), “Honey” features three central duets that shape the eighteen-minute piece for six dancers as a journey exhibiting love’s complexity.  For Roberts, creating ballets for BalletX came quickly because of the company’s character. “Working with BalletX is such a gift, really,” says Roberts. “I rarely get the time to work with a company that is so cuddly, comfortable, and warm. And present and intimate.”

Ashley Simpson in “Exalt,” choreography by Jennifer Archibald. (Photo courtesy of Vikki Sloviter)

Rounding off the April program is “Exalt” by Toronto-born dancer and choreographer Jennifer Archibald. Founder and Artistic Director of the Arch Dance Company, Archibald has served as the first female Resident Choreographer of the Cincinnati Ballet since 2017. She has been a Hip-Hop dance instructor for Barnard College in Manhattan since 2015.

Twitchy and heavily caffeinated, “Exalt is a 22-minute ballet with sci-fi lighting design by Brandon Baker and costuming that includes leather kilts and bodices by Olivia Mason.  The work oozes the influence of the driving, repetitive rhythms of House music and dance, a genre that originated in the late 1970s and ‘80s in underground clubs in Chicago and New York.  “This is a work I’ve always wanted to do to introduce house music to the ballet realm,” says Allen. “You can just sit back and enjoy movement and the freedom that the house music culture can create for the body.”

“Exalt” is also the first work Archibald created for BalletX, and for the choreographer, the top-notch talent of the company’s dancers was the highlight of the collaboration.  “The versatility of a dancer that can move through different genres of movement well and be technically sound – it’s a complicated task,” says Archibald.  “I just felt like the dancers at BalletX were up for the challenge. They just had that versatility. They brought in power to the pointe shoe that many other dance companies would be unable to hit.”

WHAT: BalletX

WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday, April 6

WHERE: Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St., Miami

COST: $25, $35, $45; $10 student tickets are available with ID. (Limited $5 tickets for ages 13 through 22 available through Culture Shock Miami)

INFORMATION: 786-573-5300 and is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at 

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