1. Want to know what the BalletX dancers have been up to in Vail? Daniel Mayo gives us an inside look at the Vail International Dance Festival:

    BalletX is here in Vail, CO for the Vail International Dance Festival, and it has been an amazing whirlwind so far! We are this year’s resident company at the festival which has afforded us the opportunity to not only perform tried and true pieces in our repertory, but to premiere an incredible new work by Matthew Neenan that will include New York City Ballet principal dancers Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild. Our rehearsal process preparing for the festival has been very intense, but also rewarding. Upon completing the premiere and run of Sunset, o639 Hours at the Wilma last month, we went right back into the studio two days later to get working on the pieces for Vail. Most of our rehearsal time went into Matt’s new work Increasing, which is full of intertwining solos, duets, quartets, and group sections. How Matt has been able to create such an intricate piece in just a few weeks right after being in the theater for Sunset is beyond me. His creative juices seem to always be flowing. We had the unique challenge of rehearsing this new work with spatial holes for Robert and Tiler, since their parts in the piece are being created and melded with the rest of the choreography while we are here at the festival. Although this challenge added some pressure, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable process. Working alongside Robert and Tiler has proven to be a joy.

    In addition to dancing alongside Robert and Tiler, we have had the rare opportunity to be in class and on stage with some truly remarkable performers. The first to come to mind is the one and only Alessandra Ferri. Being able to take class with and watch such a legend perform has been a pleasure that I know each of us will remember forever. Other artists in attendance include this year’s artist in residence Herman Cornejo, Cory Stearns, Isabella Boylston, Lauren Cuthbertson, Jeffrey Cirio, Misa Kuranaga, not to mention the unique Lil Buck. The list goes on and on.

    The reception BalletX has received from both the audience and fellow performers so far has been tremendous! There is so much established and well respected choreography being performed at the festival that we all love to watch, but I feel that BalletX has brought a freshness and excitement to Vail that really resonates with everyone who sees the company perform. As our time here comes to a close, I can’t think of a better way to finish off a busy summer with BalletX. Between the sold out run of Sunset, o639 Hours and our residency in Vail, it has been a rewarding couple of months. Just a few more days in Colorado and then back to Philly!

     -Daniel Mayo

     
  2. Last night’s world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s Sunset, o639 Hours flew into the hearts of the audience. Don’t miss your chance to see this full-length ballet with original music played live onstage by The Sunset CLub, July 9-13 at the Wilma Theater.

    Photo by Bill Hebert

     

  3. What’s happening at BalletX this month? Read the BalletX Newsletter to find out!

     
  4. Preparing for my last show as a performer with BalletX is bittersweet. Honestly, my body just cannot handle the long, grueling days of rehearsal like it once could, so I am looking forward to focusing on teaching and other aspects of my artistry. On the other hand, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be involved in the whirlwind of the creative process any longer as a performer, or experience the special camradere that forms within the group.

    I am very happy, however, to have my last performance in Philadelphia with BalletX be a new work by Matt. The first pieces I ever performed with BalletX when I joined in 2008 were two original works by Matty, so it seems fitting to end it here with one of his as well. It has been a huge honor and a pleasure getting to know him throughout the years as an artist and a friend, and I am really grateful to have bared witness to the evolution of his work throughout that time. 

    Though I am transitioning away from dancing full time, I am by no means retiring from the stage. I plan to keep dancing in certain capacities of which I am fit, and to focus on choreographing on myself and others. I will also stay involved with the company, overseeing the new Dance eXchange program in Philadelphia Public Schools and teaching company ballet class. So in this way, this time is really very joyous for me. I’m very grateful for the many years my body has given me, and I am taking this time to soak in all of the details of company life one last time. But when one chapter ends, another begins, and I’m excited for what lies ahead…

    -Colby

     

  5. Sunset, o639 Hours Program Note

    Matthew Neenan loves ballet, and it shows in everything he does. Early in his career, training at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York and dancing with the Balanchine-inspired Pennsylvania Ballet, Neenan absorbed the technique of the Russian-trained master who transformed classical style into something uniquely American: fast, focused, simultaneously accessible and imperial. As a choreographer, he has a particular knack for storytelling that we associate with early “ballet theater” choreographers like Jerome Robbins and Agnes De Mille, and he acknowledges being excited by Nederlands Dans Theater, where Jiri Kylian made his reputation, and by contemporary ballet choreographers like Ohad Naharin, Nacho Duato, and William Forsythe.

    In the 17 years since his first major commission for Pennsylvania Ballet—Vicissitudes (1997) to the music of Samuel Barber, which premiered when he was just 23—Neenan has made 13 more pieces for Pennsylvania Ballet, 14 for BalletX, and nearly 20 others for a dozen companies around the country. Founding artistic director at BalletX since 2005 and resident choreographer at Pennsylvania Ballet since 2007, Neenan is now in great demand, making new dances on troupes across the country.

    Neenan’s 2010 masterpiece, The Last Glass, shown across the country and still active in BalletX repertoire, marked a leap in his stylistic growth for its theatricality and technical diversity. To raucous tunes by the band Beirut that combine elements of indie rock and world music, the dancers, in what might be a post-prom haze, swirl and swivel, stumbling through spherical movement, some of them on pointe, some in flat shoes. A central couple—she in pants, he dressed all in white—seem to spend the whole piece breaking up. Critic Alastair Macaulay, in the New York Times, called the dancers “touchingly impulsive” and picked this work as one of his top-ten favorites of 2013, after BalletX performed it at New York’s Joyce Theater last summer.

    How do steps communicate feeling? How does the body speak? Neenan’s strength is bringing a contemporary feeling to ballet, finding ways to let the human side of his dancers come out, to let them look more like who they are. He thrives on a collective creative process, he says, “because my choreography revolves around people.” His process gives his dancers an opportunity to open themselves up.

    Audiences can read the stories Neenan knits into his choreography. Recently he’s been “into duets and small groups and building relationships; creating a narrative with the dancers.” He’s also collaborating with musicians, venturing into commissioned scores and live music. Earlier this season he made There I Was on BalletX, for which company member Colby Damon played original compositions on guitar. In the spring, for Milwaukee Ballet, he launched his retro, swinging Something Borrowed to songs by the band Pink Martini. Sunset, o639 Hours is Neenan’s second collaboration with New Zealand-born, Philadelphia-based composer Rosie Langabeer; they first joined forces in 2011 on Proliferation of the Imagination, a vaudeville dance theater piece with BalletX and The Wilma Theater.

    Macaulay recently called Neenan “one of the freshest and most remarkable American ballet choreographers based outside New York.” “I’m liking the journey I’m on,” Neenan says. “When ballet is done right, when the acting is grade A, the dancing is grade A, it’s really magical.”

    -ELIZABETH ZIMMER 

    BalletX Summer Series 2014 July 9-13 at the Wilma Theater.

    Tickets available now

     
  6. Composer Rosie Langabeer takes us through a typical day in the creative process. Rosie and her band, The Sunset Club, are creating an original score for Matthew Neenan’s world premiere ballet Sunset, 0639 Hours that will be played live onstage with the dancers. Step inside the studio and experience a BalletX rehearsal:

    Neil Feather makes instruments that are sculptures that sound like engines. Andrew Marsh sings, improvises and generally obsesses. Josh Machiz plays in (pretty much) every band in town. Isaac Stanford and his lap steel are giving people dreamy dreams all over the country. Nick Kourtides is a sound (master) designer. And I have all these folks in a studio with me composing music for BalletX’s new ballet “Sunset, o639 Hours”!

    The following is a typical conversation at the office:

    ANDREW: How about the line goes “…my baby is a sinner and she’s eating last night’s dinner in the morning…”?

    ROSIE:  We really need to have a hui about the magnapooters.

    ISAAC: Did you just say hooey? About magnapooters?

    NEIL: The Swedish neurotica needs a new battery 

    NICK: So… (Something intelligent and deep wherein he solves a complicated problem) do you know what I mean? 

    ROSIE: Let’s take this upstairs and play with the dancers.  And I think it should be improvised: beefheart, funny, mostly staccato…. quiet……. strict, short loops…in key and time with the quarter note pulse, but in a different meter to what the others are playing.

    (10 minutes later)

    ROSIE: Wow that sounds really cool…How did you do that? 

    ANDREW: I think it was H9, I7, D5 and 8, in that order

    ROSIE: Sweet as!

    JOSH: Hey, why don’t you do a hocket there

    ROSIE & ANDREW: Huh? (both google hocket) …Oh, yeah!

    BalletX’s Summer Series 2014 featuring a world premiere ballet Sunset, o639 Hours by Matthew Neenan with music by Rosie Langabeer. July 9-13 at the Wilma Theater. Tickets available here.

     

     
     
  7. We’re just two weeks away from opening night of Summer Series 2014! The dancers and musicians have been hard at work rehearsing for the world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s Sunset, 0639 Hours. Come inside a BalletX rehearsal through this photo essay, and don’t forget to buy your tickets!

    http://ticketing.artsphilly.org/tickets/eventDetails.aspx?id=29234&org=wt

    Photos by Bill Hebert and Tara Keating.

     
  8. Philadelphia is dancing!

    In preparation for our Summer Series, we made it our mission to get Philadelphia dancing!
     
    The BalletX dancers and artistic staff traveled around the city asking people to dance with us, and the response was incredible! Dancers of all ages and skill levels showed off their best dance moves on the streets of Philadelphia, in front of city landmarks, and even in the Wilma Theater offices. We had a blast dancing with all of our new friends, spreading the happiness we all share through movement.

    Please share this video with your friends and family, and get them dancing too!
     
     

  9. Matthew Neenan’s “Sunset, o639 Hours” New Zealand Journal Entries #3

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    Lighthouse in New Zealand. Photo by Rosie Langabeer.

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    Pier in New Zealand. Photo by Matthew Neenan.

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    Matthew and Rosie at Bethells Beach, New Zealand.

    Below is the final installment in a series of journal entries by Matthew Neenan from his 2013 research trip to New Zealand. Matthew and collaborator Rosie Langabeer spent three weeks traveling throughout the country, collecting information for the world premiere of Sunset, o639 Hours, Summer Series 2014, July 9-13 at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.

    Wednesday, August 28 – For the last few days, I taught the ballet majors at the New Zealand School of Dance here in Wellington.  Great school and a great building too. The drama majors are all around as well and I loved the vibe of the place. Good feeling of work ethic with a bit of sexiness mixed in. There are contemporary dance majors as well, and I have a feeling they are the cream of the crop. I actually watched  part of the ballet major’s contemporary class and thought they were the contemporaries. I was wrong. I tried to express to them today that they need to think about their modern training and incorprate it in their ballet class more. Many are a bit stiff and not using enough of their plie. Garry Trindler, the director of the program and a sweet heart, seemed excited by my class and would love to have me back in some compacity. I expressed to him that I don’t really like teaching everyday, but coaching something or even just teaching a phrase of choroegraphy……absolutely. I think one of the duets from my 2012 ballet Switch Phase may be good for them.

    Kind of roughing it here in Wellington. Staying at Rosie’s friend Johnny’s where I was under the impression I’d get my own room or  at least be in a secluded living room. There are six people living here, all adults in their late 20’s – late 30’s and very sweet, professional people, mostly creative artists. So, no real room at all, but I’m in a shed off of the house (I opted to take this and have Rosie stay in the living room since she knows most of the people in house better than I do).  The shed smells a bit and it’s tiny with a single bed, but has a gorgeous view of the bay.

    Sunday, September 1—The week in Wellington was a busy and full week of establishing new relationships. Not only the New Zealand School of Dance, but also meeting with dancers Ethan Steifel and Gillian Murphy whom Rosie and I both had drinks with before we saw Raewyn Hill’s company, Dancenorth. It was also great seeing Raewyn again (we did works together at Juilliard in 2010). Rosie and I did a radio interview, which was awesome! We discussed our artistic and professional lives and the project as well. On Friday the 30th we arrived in New Plymouth. I LOVE this town. It’s where the huge mountain, Mount Taranaki,is and apparently you can only see it at it’s full capacity about 20-30 days out of the year. Well, we were here during one of those lucky 20- 30 days. It’s gorgeous, vast and covered with snow. We stayed with another couple who are friend’s of Rosie’s parents, Amanda and Phil. Lovely people who where also completely attracted to our project and keen on discussing it with us. Amanda highly recommended we do the task of  asking “What?” “Why?” and “How?”, a process many creative artists and entrepreneurs use.  We were in town during the Taranaki Festival ( which is much like the Fringe Arts Festival in Philly) and saw some great stuff. Black Grace was phenomenal—fabulous dancers, great concept and some of the best use of video I’ve ever seen. Some great hikes and beach walking made this part of the trip exhilarating.

    Tuesday, September 3—Spending my last few days here in Auckland where it all began. It’s been nice spending time with Rosie’s family again.  We saw the New Zealand Dance Company, went to a divy sensational underground bar and back to Bethell’s beach where I have done some major thinking about this project and my life. All good and all inspiring. Rosie and I also took a walk around Musick point, a memorial for Captain Musick where Rosie talked about stress just really being our own fear and the need to get rid of it. Rosie is quite the philosopher and I always enjoy hearing her thoughts on life’s complications. So thrilled and relieved that I took this trip now and not in March. There is a lot to ponder and lots of decisions to make about this ballet. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

    BalletX Summer Series 2014. July -13 at The Wilma Theater. Tickets and information at www.balletx.org.

     
  10. On Wednesday, June 4th BalletX had their annual fundraising gala The Premier Party at Vista at Top of the Tower in downtown Philadelphia.

    This fun and festive evening featured an exclusive performance from the upcoming Summer Series 2014 world premiere by BalletX Co-Artistic Director Matthew Neenan’s entitled Sunset, o639 Hours (July 9-13 at The Wilma Theater), a live and silent auction, live music, wine tasting, and delicious food and cocktails. The Premier Party benefits BalletX’s mission to produce new works that expand the vocabulary of classical dance for all audiences.

    To learn more about The Premier Party and BalletX visit www.balletx.org

    Photos courtesy of CJ Dawson Photography and Charles Shan Cerrone