Performance dance is generally by and about the young, a profession dancers join in their teens or early 20s and retire from around 40. Young love is a common theme.
But BalletX explored the full circle of life when it opened its 12th season Wednesday night at the Wilma Theater, bringing back Nicolo Fonte's Beautiful Decay, which he made for the company in 2013.
Two dancers over 75 join the 10 company members for this piece. Wednesday night, they were Brigitta Herrmann and Manfred Fischbeck, founders and directors of Group Motion, another Philadelphia modern dance company.
Housed in Mimi Lien's architectural set, Herrmann and Fischbeck seem to direct the company. The two move their arms in port de bras as the company dancers translate the movements much larger and faster. The groups run through the dimly lit rooms of the set as Hermann and Fischbeck move more slowly, closer to the audience.
It's a timely response to the prevailing winds of 2017, as older workers come to feel devalued and younger colleagues withhold the respect that was once thought due. By portraying Herrmann and Fischbeck as the leaders and the company dancers as those who will eventually follow, the performance underscores the beauty and value in both stages of life.
Fonte's choreography has large, sweeping motions that involve the entire upper body. These suit the passionate style of the company, especially dancers like Andrea Yorita, Chloe Perkes, and Gary W. Jeter II.
While Lien's set changes shape throughout the piece, it maintains its angles and corners. Fonte's similarly architectural choreography makes a contrast, with beautiful curves and rounder shapes. One dancer circles her partner's waist in a low lift. Another is held high overhead, her back in a gorgeous deep arch, while three men form columns on the ground.
The second half of the performance opens with the dancers in longer dresses and suits, presumably older. They step more slowly this time as Herrmann and Fischbeck sit in another room of the set. The movements are gradual and stretching, more deliberate but still lovely shapes.
As the scenes change, the younger dancers notice the older ones. Touches or arm movements by their elders inform the younger dancers, one of whom (intentionally) falls to the ground but recovers. (Another stumbled in a solo but also carried on.)
The younger dancers change from flat shoes to pointe shoes and from long dresses to skimpier athletic wear for faster sections with pirouettes and complicated lifts.
The older ones, however, don't have the benefit of shape-shifting back to their youth.
Performances through Dec. 10 at the Wilma Theater. 265 S. Broad St.