BalletX rehearsing Wubkje Kuindersma's Yonder. Vikki Sloviter, Courtesy BalletX.

From Pick-Up to Premieres: How BalletX Has Grown Into a Coveted Company Prioritizing New Work

When Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan were forming BalletX in 2005, they had big dreams: Still dancers with Pennsylvania Ballet, they aspired for their contemporary ballet company to perform at Jacob's Pillow and Vail Dance Festival. They liked the idea of presenting new work. They hoped someday their company would be on the cover of Dance Magazine.


Fourteen years later, BalletX, now helmed by Cox as artistic and executive director, has accomplished all these things. Nearly every piece it performs is a world premiere—with 81 in total as of this March—and it works with a dazzling array of international choreographers, including Nicolo Fonte, Trey McIntyre, Jo Strømgren, Jodie Gates, Val Caniparoli and Lil Buck. BalletX was the first American company to commission Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, welcoming her most recently for the creation of her full-length The Little Prince. Cox commissions as many as eight new ballets each season and says, "I'm looking for voices that are strong, compassionate and curious and are able to challenge the dancers each day they're creating." The company's mission was made very clear in 2018, when it opened its South Philadelphia studio, the Center for World Premiere Choreography.

Its dancers have opportunities to choreograph for pop-up performances at local landmarks, such as the "Rocky steps" in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. BalletX also offers an annual choreographic fellow program for one emerging dancemaker, and this year it launched dancer fellowships, akin to traineeships, for newly professional performers.

"I really want to grow the next generation of dancers," says Cox, whose company of 10 includes 2019 Princess Grace Award winner Stanley Glover and Chloe Perkes, a Pointe Standout performer of 2014. The dancers come from varied backgrounds. Prior to joining BalletX, Perkes was in Alex Ketley's contemporary troupe and Sacramento Ballet. Skyler Lubin was in Miami City Ballet's corps, and Glover was on "So You Think You Can Dance" and in Cirque du Soleil.

Christine Cox. Gabriel Bienczycki, Courtesy BalletX.

But the now-renowned troupe had humble beginnings. It all started in 2005, because Cox and Neenan, then near the end of their careers at PAB, wanted to dance with their friends off-season at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Very early on, they had encouragement from the local arts community. In 2006, the Fringe Festival invited BalletX to present world premieres by Neenan and Jorma Elo.

Soon, BalletX was performing three seasons a year as the Wilma Theater's resident dance company. The William Penn Foundation encouraged BalletX to apply for funding, which allowed the troupe to hire its own dancers. (When the company started as a pick-up group, most were from PAB.)

Touring and festival performances followed. In particular, "the Vail Dance Festival has shined a light on the company," Cox says. BalletX has appeared at Vail six of the past seven summers (spending one as the resident dance company).

As BalletX was growing in size and prominence, Neenan quietly took his leave in 2014, pursing choreographic opportunities at larger ballet companies. Cox, however, still commissions him regularly.

Andrea Yorita in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's The Little Prince.

Vikki Sloviter, Courtesy BalletX

The dancers enjoy working with Neenan, as well as the wide variety of other choreographers. "I'm always challenged in different ways," says Richard Villaverde, who joined in 2012, when he was a senior at University of the Arts. "Everyone always wants to try something new with us." As for working with Cox, Villaverde says, "in the studio, she's really diligent about why you're doing what you're doing, the meaning behind it and performing the work the way it was created." Although it's intense to constantly be involved in new creations, Villaverde sums up the company experience in one word: "Fun." He says, "We all get along so well. And that's one of the most vital parts of being a dancer here."

In 2019, the company toured more than ever before. Aside from stops at the Kennedy Center and Vail, BalletX traveled to Serbia, New York City and on a southern tour of three states. While touring is glamorous, Cox makes sure BalletX spends plenty of time at home. "I have to give the artists time to create," she says. The emphasis on premieres is "very different than many other small to midsized companies. Our company is about being in Philadelphia and really building."

Stanley Glover in rehearsal.

Vikki Sloviter, Courtesy BalletX

BalletX at a Glance

Number of dancers: 10, plus 2 fellows

Length of contract: 40 weeks

Starting salary: $700 a week

Performances per year: 65–70

Website: balletx.org

Audition Advice

The company holds auditions once a year, usually in February, March or April in New York City. Beyond technical proficiency, Cox looks for "really physical dancers who have a great sense of musicality, an authentic sense of soulful dancing and sense of self that allow them to open up." BalletX doesn't have frequent turnover, but Cox says she called an auditioning dancer months later when a position opened up. Several current members auditioned more than once before landing the job.

Latest Posts


Vikki Sloviter

Sydney Dolan Takes Center Stage at Pennsylvania Ballet

This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Courtesy Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Reconnects with Nature in This 5-Part Video Series

Earlier this month, Alonzo King LINES Ballet released the first in a series of five dance films, part of a new project entitled "There Is No Standing Still." The series features company members spanning 10 cities and four continents dancing amid their outdoor environments, in spaces ranging from quiet forests to rocky deserts to the ocean shore. While COVID-19 has put the company's normal activity on hold and forced the dancers to separate from each other physically, "There Is No Standing Still" allows LINES to create new material together in a different way. Directed by Robert Rosenwasser and edited by Philip Perkins, this installment of five short films incorporates choreography by artistic director Alonzo King and company dancers as they become one with the space around them. Check out the first two, released last month, below.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
VAM/Siggul, Courtesy YAGP

YAGP Has Announced the Winners of the 2020 Pas De Deux Virtual Competition

Last weekend, Youth America Grand Prix took to the internet, hosting its first virtual pas de deux competition. Over the course of three days, YAGP streamed videos from its regional events' highest-ranked competitors for a panel of esteemed judges. And, drum roll please... YAGP has just announced the winners, spanning three categories: Senior Classical, Junior Classical and Contemporary.

You can watch the full virtual awards ceremony, hosted by YAGP director of external affairs Sergey Gordeev, below, or scroll down for the list of winners. And if you're missing the thrill of competition, don't fear: Gordeev announced that registration for the 2021 season will open on July 10, with both in-person and virtual options available.

Congratulations to all!

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks