James Sewell Ballet has a commitment to nurturing choreographic experimentation with its "Ballet Works Project." This year's edition features five creations from company members and guests. Some are knockouts, others are still evolving, but credit is due the JSB dancers for their versatility, bravery and a fluidity of styles.
The evening begins with "Under Epic Granite," choreographed by former JSB member Penelope Freeh in collaboration with company co-founder Sally Rousse. The piece was commissioned, conceived and performed by Rousse, and it is as raw and subtly brilliant as a rare gem dug up from the rocky earth.
Rousse dances under the shadow of a boulder set piece dangling from the rafters. Her pointe work is intricate, one-of-a-kind and extremely difficult. Both Freeh and Rousse are experts at conjuring mysterious yet mesmerizing worlds, and "Under Epic Granite" is no exception. Dedicated to the late dance patron Sage Cowles, it is a fitting salute to women who dare.
"Semi-Detached," by JSB's Nic Lincoln, and "Mortar," by Blake Nellis, both tap into an intriguing post-apocalyptic sensibility. Eve Schulte and Kelly Vittetoe tackle Lincoln's duet as if the two of them are futuristic beings becoming familiar with intimacy — to the point where they merge into one. It's a captivating glimpse into a larger work due in March.
Nellis is also drawn into the dynamics of human contact. His dancers — dressed in hoodies and baggy pants — seem to be rebuilding a society using the few bricks they have on stage. Their movements are purposeful yet punctuated by outbursts of a more radical nature. At one point Vittetoe dances wildly in a circle of bricks, as if she is a flame bursting out of a fire pit.
JSB dancer Nicky Coelho's "Red Tape" uses events from the 1960s as inspirational touchstones to explore the unpredictable course of history. Coelho's choreography has strength and intention, but it doesn't really connect with her sweeping theme, save for the use of a musical collage from the era.
Norbert De La Cruz III contributed "Dusty Realms" to the program. An up-and-coming dance maker in New York, this artist has a particular gift for creating gorgeous spiraling movement for the performers that seems to unspool from upper to lower limbs. The work is quiet and thoughtful — at least outwardly — but its layers are many.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.