When BalletFleming presented Dancing in the Streets, an original ballet choreographed by the company’s artistic director Christopher Fleming to pop music of the late ’60s, at the Painted Bride Art Center this past September, a good portion of the audience lingered long after the show was over. “They didn’t want to leave,” recalls Tim Monsul, BalletFleming’s board president. “There was so much energy in the room, and everyone wanted to stay with it.”
The company seeks to rekindle that energy with The Movement of the Heart, presented at the Bride this week. The show features seven works that all tie into some kind of emotion, including an outtake from Dancing in the Streets, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” performed by Dillon Anthony and Gina-marie Battista. It’s a pas de deux both on and off stage; they’re engaged to be married.
“We’re pushing the whole Valentine’s thing,” says Fleming. He’s quickly gained an audience for his fledgling troupe with programs that, though they’re steeped in classical ballet technique, do not adhere to the standard ballet catalog. Fleming prefers to appeal to a broader base. The company’s repertory features his original choreography, with themes like Edgar Allen Poe, a pirate fantasy and The Who’s Tommy.
“A guy chasing a swan though the woods — been there, done that, and it doesn’t mean a lot to the person across the street from me,” says Fleming. “We’ve done a lot of different things. … What I’m trying to do is have it so the movement suits the idea, or suits the music, or the story, or the situation. I hadn’t thought of how to categorize it. I call it modern ballet. It becomes what’s appropriate.”
Just two years old, BalletFleming is already drawing good crowds. The company seemed to appear out of nowhere. Fleming had been an assistant director and resident choreographer at the Rock School for Dance Education for nearly a decade, and he’d also taught classes for Rebecca Davis Dance Company for about six months. But to local dance audiences, he was “Christopher who?”
Fleming hails from a family of dance, film and theater professionals; he was a principal dancer with New York City Ballet under the leadership of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. He’s helmed other companies in both North and South America, and had a successful career as a freelance choreographer.
BalletFleming is made up of dancers who were either onetime students of its artistic director or worked with him on freelance gigs. “You know when a bunch of musicians get together and they just nod at each other?” he says. “It’s that kind of feeling.”
That unspoken understanding comes in handy during rehearsal. As dancer Anthony notes, “Chris likes to get things done. There’s some companies that work for hours on eight steps, and Chris usually gives us 140 steps in one hour.”
Fleming says his manner of dance-making borrows from two of his mentors: Balanchine and Robbins. “They were diametrically opposite. Jerry [Robbins] controlled everything you did in a ballet, and Mr. B kind of let you find it. So I try to control it up to a point, then let it go.”
Fleming is open to mixing it up and exploring new things with his company, including a piece on the upcoming program that delves into Salvador Dali’s penchant for voyeurism. He invited guest choreographer Jenn Rose to set a work for his dancers, and Janet Pilla, a longtime veteran of the local scene, performs a solo.
“I thought it would be nice to introduce other artists into our program so that it might help build a bigger audience, and Janet’s piece gives our dancers a break,” says Fleming. “I don’t know, I’m just trying things as we roll along.”
Thu.-Fri., Feb. 14-15, 7 p.m., $25, Painted Bride, 230 Vine St., 215-454-2858, balletfleming.org.