Magazine article Dance Magazine

Matthew Nennan: Whether Classical or Brash, His Choreography Always Reveals a Fertile Imagination

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Matthew Nennan: Whether Classical or Brash, His Choreography Always Reveals a Fertile Imagination

Article excerpt

Matthew Neenan is decked out in the ballet finery of a 19th-century European prince, but something very contemporary and intercultural is going on. His stage is the concrete courtyard of a Philadelphia public school, and his court is a pick-up group of inner-city youth. While they teach Neenan to boogey "Philly style," he teaches the kids to pepper their pops and locks with battements. Little do they know that waves and bumps have already found their way into Neenan's choreography, or that he is a triple threat: rising choreographer, established dancer, and co-founder and artistic director of Phrenic New Ballet in 2000, and BALLET X, an offshoot of Phrenic, in 2004.

This month, Neenan has two pieces premiering, one at Pennsylvania Ballet (PAB), where he dances, and another at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. While it's fun watching him in this site-specific setting--part of PAB's educational outreach program--it's sheer exhilaration to witness the way he weds a choreographic idea with a musical score to make magic on the stage. At 30, Neenan has choreographed five works for PAB since 1997, five for Phrenic, and more for other companies.

Neenan began training at age 8 with the Boston Ballet School in his native city, and later moved to New York to attend the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts and the School of American Ballet. He joined PAB in 1994. Although still a corps member, he dances principal roles and is the company's unofficial resident choreographer. In both capacities he brings an ironic wit to the stage. From the waist up he is boyishly taut and lifted, yet stretchy and surprisingly double-jointed in the limbs.

Choreographically, Neenan creates bilingual works for a multicultural world. His classical grammar is filled with contemporary vocabulary. Like the hip hop generation, he is sometimes "in your face," raw, and edgy, but, like his artistic heroes (Balanchine, Taylor, Kylian, van Manen, and Morris), his work is based in ballet technique. …

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