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BalletX: keepin’ it surreal with Proliferation

Posted April 12th, 2011

BalletX, one of Philly’s premiere dance companies, debuts its new work Proliferation of the Imagination this week at The Wilma Theater as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), and performances continue through Sunday, April 24th. Proliferations is a reworking of the French surrealist theater pioneer Guillaume Apollinaire’s play Les mamelles de TirĂ©sias, which debuted in Paris in 1916 and concerns a housewife who changes sex and lets her breasts float upwards as toy balloons. This production, made in collaboration with The Wilma Theater, combines ballet, spoken work, and live music.

We were able to ambush BalletX’s co-artistic director and Proliferation‘s choreographer Matthew Neenan the weekend before the opening with these penetrating questions.

Live Arts: Why the title Proliferation of the Imagination?

Matthew Neenan: Well about a year ago we needed a working title, which ended up becoming the main title. Enforcing the imagination is what Apollinaire’s work was all about, and we are trying to do the same thing.

LA: What are the challenges of incorporating other performance elements such as spoken word, video, and set with ballet?

MN: It’s a huge challenge to balance all the art forms and allow everyone to have their voice. The dancers started dancing to the script as if it were their music and then we just went from there. From the beginning of the play the actors, dancers and musicians are already starting to blend so the audience will understand [right away] that this is a true interdisciplinary piece.

LA: It is interesting to look back at what people were doing a long time ago and to discover how much more artistically radical the past can be than the present. In drawing on the theater of the absurd and the play this work is based on, what were some of the most interesting discoveries you have made from examining this period or this piece, and what have been your favorites to play with and incorporate into the performance?

MN: I honestly feel that we haven’t changed much. This is a very feminist play and still has major relevance to today’s world. The play also deals with the theme of “war” which unfortunately still holds true to today as well. It was such a wonderful time for artists to feel they had the freedom to explore and I’m proud that we allowed ourselves to do that. The most enjoyable and scary incorporations of the work is when we went to the absurdity.

LA: Do you have a pre-show opening night routine? (Such as drinking a scotch?)

MN: I used to have a scotch but then that would turn into two scotches so now I just don’t do that till after the show. Although, I do suggest that audience members have a little fix before they see this wacky production. I usually like to have sometime at home, even if it’s for just an hour, before I go the theater. At home I feel relaxed and medialized.

Thanks Matthew and we’ll see you at the show!

When: April 12 (preview) at 8pm, April 13–16 at 8pm, April 17 at 2pm, April 19–23 at 8pm, April 24 at 2pm.

Where: The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street (at Spruce)
Tickets: General $35, Senior $30, Students $25. Ph: 215.546.7824, web:, by feet: The Wilma Theater Box Office, 265 South Broad Street

And check out their video of the making of:

–Josh McIlvain

Photos by Bill Hebert.