In a sensual, troubled duet to the music of Amy Winehouse, dancers Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck channel the late singer's fraught relationship with fame, performance and love. They embody the haunting gravity of her story—while wearing enormous pairs of bunny ears.
On paper, Trey McInytre's Big Ones sounds like it shouldn't work. But risky choices are par for the course at BalletX, and this risk pays off. Founded as a summertime pickup troupe in 2005 by Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan when they were dancers at Pennsylvania Ballet, BalletX is dedicated to performing new work—and lots of it. Its repertory boasts a whopping 76 world premieres in 14 years.
From left: Tara Keating, Christine Cox and dancers Francesca Forcella and Andrea Yorita evaluate BalletX hopefuls. Photo by Quinn Wharton.
"I'm going to walk through; it's going to be so awkward," says BalletX artistic and executive director Christine Cox, addressing 119 auditionees and acknowledging the ever-intimidating clipboard she holds. The room bursts into laughter, and smiles linger as pliés begin. Cox may have broken the tension, but stakes are high when contracts are up for grabs. At the BalletX company audition in New York City last April, Cox and associate artistic director Tara Keating were looking for one female dancer to fill a summer contract and one or two males to start year-round in the fall. "The core foundation of the company is ballet," Cox says, "but the X is everything. The X is a dancer who can experiment, explore, express themselves." And that's who they're looking for among these hopefuls.
BalletX rehearses Penny Saunders' Rock-a-Bye in its new Center for World Premiere Choreography. Photo by Chris Kendig, Courtesy BalletX
With over 68 new works in its 13-year history, BalletX is known for being an epicenter of creation. The company will outdo itself in its 2018–19 season, treating Philadelphia to seven new works, four of them by women. "We are interested in growing, not cutting costs," says artistic director Christine Cox. "The unknown adventure of new ballets means there is an unknown process and a different learning curve we get to work on every day."
It takes an excellent leader to run a dance company. But Christine Cox, executive and artistic director of Philadelphia's BalletX, knows that it's not only hard work that distinguishes a leader.
Cox started BalletX with Matthew Neenan in 2005, using fellow Pennsylvania Ballet dancers during their summer layoff to populate a startup contemporary ballet troupe. Fast forward 12 years, and BalletX is opening a new $1 million building next month: The Center for World Premiere Choreography. It will not only serve as a home base for BalletX classes and rehearsals, but will also play host to choreographic residencies and community outreach.
Now the sole director of the company, Cox has learned invaluable lessons along the way. Here are seven tips she shares for new and aspiring directors-to-be.