The Key Studio Sessions: Rosie Langabeer and the BalletX Players

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Experimental Philadelphia composer Rosie Langabeer is no stranger to ballet. She’s previously worked composing dreamlike scores and immersive soundscapes for Philadelphia contemporary dance company BalletX on 2016’s Sunset, 0639 Hours and on 2011’s Proliferation of the Imagination.

Likewise, BalletX is no stranger to doing interesting and unusual things with music; the’ve performed dance pieces based around the songs of Beirut and Amy Winehouse, and for their 10th anniversary, they did a retrospective of their greatest hits — dances to Rufus and Chaka Khan, to Joanna Newsom, to Ólafur Arnalds, to Bach and Handel.

For BalletX’s Summer Series, opening tonight at the Wilma Theater on South Broad Street, Langabeer once again joins forces with the dance company, working with choreographer Penny Saunders to create a score that broods with intensity and blisses out to heavenly pop. The piece, Rock-a-Bye, “explores transience and permanence, destiny and free will,” and Langabeer translates that into sound with the help of Tara Middleton of Sun Ra Arkestra and Gregg Mervine of West Philadelphia Orchestra.

We had Langabeer and the BalletX players in the WXPN studio this week to get a rare glimpse at the artists on the other side of a dance production. Langabeer, Middleton and Mervine filled a table will all manner of ad-hoc noisemakers — wrenches and screws, sifters and mixing bowls, mugs and bottles, a toy piano. It was as though somebody’s kitchen, basement and playroom simultaneously exploded into their workspace, and it was this group of musicians’ jobs to figure out how to use it in their songs. The opening piece, “Overture / On A Tuesday,” was very evocative of David Lynch in its tense, pulsing buildup of sound and texture (accentuated by Middleton’s violin work and sampler playing from Langabeer and Mervine) that gives way to a glorious, 50s-style pop song.

The centerpiece, “Rock-a-Bye,” simmers for eight minutes as nearly everything on and around the table — guitar, minimal drums, screwdrivers, pots and pans — gets incorporated into a piece reminiscent of Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs in its array of alluring noise. Wrapping the set is “Late Night Kitchen,” a mostly instrumental piece evoking the nervy sensations of insomnia with moaning groaning voices that aren’t too far off from accordions.

Below, listen to the entire Key Studio Sessions performance from Rosie Langabeer and the BalletX Players, watch the ensemble perform “Rock-a-Bye,” and catch them at the Wilma this month, as the BalletX Summer Series runs through July 22nd. Tickets and more information can be found at the BalletX website.

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