What does it look like when the regions oldest and largest land conservation organization and Philadelphia’s Premier Contemporary Ballet Company collaborate? This summer, it looked like dancer Ashley Simpson posed in front of a curtain of wildflowers, stretching upward before bursting into a fluid dance in the summer sunshine. Protected by social distance and the ventilation of breezes, dancers performed for a small camera crew, towering trees, and wildflowers in one of the many outdoor spaces stewarded by Natural Lands.
While many arts organizations have cancelled their 2020 seasons, BalletX found a creative way to make the world its stage by filming its 15th Anniversary Season at various regional locations including two Natural Lands properties: Idlewild Farm Preserve and Stoneleigh: a natural garden. Caili Quan’s directorial debut, “Love letter” features iconic locations from around the Philadelphia region, from the Atlantic beaches of New Jersey to South Philly’s rooftop views to the curated native gardens and structures of Natural Lands’ Stoneleigh in Villanova. At Stoneleigh, dancers used the backdrop of high meadow blooms and the historical pergola as the living set pieces for the dramatic movement and intense moments of stillness in the beauty of nature. A tribute to Guam, where Quan grew up, the ballet explores themes of longing for far away people and places with cinematographers Elliot deBruyn and Nathaniel Brown.
Idlewild Farm Preserve served as an idyllic backdrop to Penny Saunders’ “Ricochet,” filmed and directed by Quinn Wharton. The ballet explores the archetype of the American Cowboy and Westerns using Idlewild’s meadow pathways and historical structures to frame its story. This season builds a bridge between the virtual and the physical; audiences can watch the BalletX performances online and then visit the film locations in person to explore these beautiful, inspiring outdoor spaces.
“BalletX has taken a big leap into a whole new arena producing beautiful dance films for our new virtual platform BalletX Beyond. We dove in and shifted our focus to continue bringing world premiere works to our incredible audience virtually. This is the beginning of a wonderful journey, and we can’t wait to share it with our friends, old and new, around the world,” says Christine Cox, BalletX artistic and executive director.
“We are always seeking innovative ways to introduce new audiences to Natural Lands’ regional network of nature preserves and to Stoneleigh, our public garden, all of which are open to the public,
free of charge. We are thrilled that these beautiful, preserved landscapes are featured alongside BalletX’s company of talented dancers—we hope that this virtual experience in the outdoors will be an inspiration to connect with nature in new ways,” says Kelly Herrenkohl, vice president of communications & engagement.
The new virtual subscription series BalletX Beyond can be found at www.BalletX.org/Beyond. Stoneleigh: a natural garden is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm, free of charge.