1. 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

     

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

     
  3. 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

     

  4. 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

     
  5. 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.

     

     
     
  6. 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.

     
  7. 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!
     
     

  8. 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.

     
  9. 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

     

  10. Matthew Neenan “Sunset, o639 Hours” New Zealand Journal Entries-#2

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    Flying Boat, New Zealand. Photo by Matthew Neenan.

    Below is the second 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, July 9-13 at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.

    Friday, August 22 2013 -  On Tuesday evening we spent the night with friends of Rosie’s family in Warkwroth. Susie and Jefferson, a couple around age 60, both artists. Jefferson is also a spiritual healer and at first I was put off by his ensuing questions towards our project, but by by the next day I really enjoyed listening to what he had to say. He definitely thinks before he speaks and one can always appreciate that. He recommended that we both read The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz.

    Jeff seemed quite intrigued by the work and stirred us to ask the most important questions. “How to solve certain creative issues before it’s too late?” “You don’t want too many questions about the work to drag you down in the process do you?” “Don’t you want to make this a world class piece?”  Well, yes, of course we do but it’s refreshing to have a strangers perspective on it.

    Rosie and I are thinking of a pier for the set. Have seen many classy ones here throughout the trip so far but that might change. Wow, Bethels Beach, about an hour west of Auckland, is possibly the most beautiful spot I’ve been to yet and I’ve been to many beautiful spots in this country. But something about this beach ercked me. I had certain revelations that usually stress me out about what I love to do and who I want to surround myself with in my work. Things we’re afraid to ask ourselves because we think we should all just be fine with it and move on. Talked openly with Rosie and she had some splendid thoughts as always. “Always listen to your organs” and “Do you think we should let Dan Rothenberg (co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theater Company) direct this?”   Whoa. She perpetuated the idea because I discussed with her how Dan and I have broached the subject recently regarding a collaboration. Won’t bore you with the details but yes, Dan (and other Pig Iron specialists) should take a look at a rehearsal at some point in the process,  offer feedback and maybe even offer an idea that could completely enhance the work. I did stress to her though that I wanted it to start with her and I. I need to challenge myself as a director and produce the physical ideas myself first.

    Thoughts on dance movement for the piece……

    THE PLANE-All 10 dancers embodying the aircraft, make it mechanical, personal, emotional, crafty. Then a re-enactment of the same physicality but faster, harsher until…… the crash. Rosie has some awesome musical ideas about both these movements.

    PROLOGUE-Open the house at around 15minutes. Have a dancer and musician collecting letters (how exactly the audience will write all this is still TBD). A sheer scrim instead of red curtain, mist throughout the stage, pier in back with some dancers on it. Dancers on stage improving with some letters/airmail. A few dancers on cat walk. A female dancer sitting at a desk and lamp, writing passage after passage dropping pieces of paper down towards musician as he vocalizes some of her writing. The letter never gets there. The “fantasy” we will incporporate in the work will probably be the most fun.

    BalletX Summer Series 2014. July 9-13 at The Wilma Theater. Tickets information available at www.balletx.org.