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How homemade instruments and 20th century history cross paths in BalletX’s new Sunset, o639 Hours

Rosie Langabeer, center, with Andrew Mars and Josh Machiz and the BalletX crew | photo by Isaac Stanford | courtesy of the artist
Rosie Langabeer, center, with Andrew Mars and Josh Machiz and the BalletX crew | photo by Isaac Stanford | courtesy of the artist

“Do you realize it took us an hour and a half to break down?”

Joshua Machiz asks this of his fellow Philadelphia musicians Isaac Stanford, Andrew Mars and Rosie Langabeer as they walk down a hallway at South Philly’s Rock School for Dance Education. They’d just packed away the last of their gear – several curious contraptions of spinning metal circuits and intertwining cables home-fashioned by Baltimore experimental artist Neil Feather, along with three prepared speakers the instruments were connected to. These are normal speakers that have been augmented with various objects to alter their sound, making them more resonant, or maybe more percussive.

“A speaker cone vibrates, and when you put things in there, they rattle,” explains Langabeer. “Or if you put a big drum overhead, it changes the tone. So we’ve experimented with different ones, found combinations we like.”

They all have different names, too, like Trampy and Ping Pong. Or Mr. Coffee, which actually has a can sitting and pinging from atop the middle of the speaker.

“This is definitely the skilled labor part of being a musician,” says Langabeer.

“Something like fifty inputs into the board,” adds Stanford. “It’s insane.”

“It’s the blessing and the curse of being the most complicated show any of us have ever worked on,” admits Machiz.

The show in question is called Sunset, o639 Hours, the centerpiece of BalletX’s Fall Series, opening tonight and running through Sunday at the Wilma Theater on Broad Street. It is a collaboration between the contemporary ballet company, choreographer Matthew Neenan, and these four musicians, led by Langabeer; together they interpret the true story of Captain Edwin Musick, a pilot charged with the first trans-Pacific airmail flights in 1938, whose plane tragically exploded mid-air before reaching its final destination in New Zealand. Continue reading →

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BalletX is modern dance for the Spotify generation

BalletX dancers in Kevin O'Day's Time Curves | photo by Alexander Iziliaev
BalletX dancers in Kevin O’Day’s Time Curves | photo by Alexander Iziliaev

“I hope you’re having fun,” Christine Cox told a packed house at South Broad Street’s Wilma Theater on Thursday night. “We hear that people tend to have fun at our performances.”

The co-founder and executive artistic director of Philly’s BalletX picked an opportune time to make this observation; company dancers Francesca Forcella and Zachary Kapeluck had just spent the four and a half sexy minutes of Rufus and Chaka Khan‘s “Tell Me Something Good” comically bopping and grinding on the Wilma’s minimally adorned stage, a bored couple trying to throw some spice in their humdrum domestic life. It was one of the most overtly funny – and most successfully fun – ballet performances I’ve ever seen, and the crowd was still chuckling in response.

The piece, I Like You Different, was first performed by the company in 2007, with Cox herself dancing the female lead. “We came up with that late at night at the Pennsylvania Ballet, when we were exhausted. It’s good to see it again.”

In my notebook, I wrote “FUNKAY” in all capital letters in response to Like You; I don’t know if that word has ever been used in a ballet context, but that’s kind of the point of BalletX. It uses the formal, traditional rigors of classical dance training as a launching off point to challenge convention. Continue reading →

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Chris Kasper’s Bagabones takes flight with the help of BalletX

BalletX dancers with Chris Kasper and his band performing "When We Are All One" | Photo courtesy of BalletX
BalletX dancers with Chris Kasper and his band performing “When We Are All One” | Photo courtesy of BalletX

When we heard our Philly blogger friend Dan McGurk of Root Down in the Shadow was attending opening night of Chris Kasper’s collaboration with BalletX  at the Wilma Theater, we asked him to share his impression of of the performance. You can read his review below.

During a Q&A at the Wilma Theater Wednesday night, when Chris Kasper was asked what it was like to see his music performed with ballet dancers, he said “It’s fulfilling at a level that’s hard to describe.”

“A song-writer always hopes that the music continues to grow after it’s been put to pen,” Kasper told the opening night crowd at the Wilma Theater. Nearly two years after Bagabones evolved from muse to paper to songs to record, the album grows once again with the help of choreographer Adam Hougland and Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet company, BalletX. Continue reading →

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Chris Kasper to collaborate with Philly Dance Company, BalletX

Chris Kasper | via Facebook.com/ChrisKasperMusic
Chris Kasper | via Facebook.com/ChrisKasperMusic

Philly singer-songwriter Chris Kasper has embarked on a unique, collaborative project with Philly dance company BalletX for seven shows from July 8-12 at The Wilma Theater, where he’ll perform tracks off of 2013’s folk/soul Bagabones – tied into the residency is his Indiegogo campaign to create a music video with BalletX for the track “Raven and the Rose” and a spring tour in support of it, which kicks off tonight at Ballet X’s spring preview premiere party. Continue reading →