On September 9, BalletX presented choreographer Matthew Neenan’s full-evening work from 2014, Sunset, o639 Hours, at The Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
Yes, really! The company actually appeared on stage. This evening, the theatre was full, we all had to wear masks, and show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result in order to attend, but that was a small price to pay to actually see a live performance. For many, this would be the first live dance performance in eighteen months, and at a lovely venue like The Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
The evening began with a conversation led by Artistic and Executive Director Christine Cox, choreographer Matthew Neenan, and two of the musicians, Josh Machiz and Isaac Stanford. Here we learned of the challenges and joys of creating the piece years ago, and now reviving it years later with many new dancers and musicians. Mr. Neenan felt surprised that it seemed to him to be only yesterday that he created the work, yet it also seemed to him to be ancient history. Ms. Cox informed us that Sunset, o639 Hours had previously been seen at the Vail Dance Festival this summer. She also informed us that the company will tour, performing in New York’s City Center’s Fall for Dance in October, and in January in Philadelphia. Mr. Neenan told us that Sunset, o639 Hours was built around a series of letters written to famed pilot Captain Edwin Musick in the 1930s, narrated along with cabaret songs of the era, and music created especially for the work using uniquely crafted instruments.
The performance began strangely. Dancers slowly appeared onstage, while great numbers of latecomers and ushers created visual confusion as to what movements we were supposed to be looking at while the house lights were at full brightness. For at least ten minutes, there were more people standing and moving in the aisles than there were on stage. After what seemed to be twenty minutes, the last people were seated, and the house lights were blessedly turned down. This also helped calm the jittery audience from talking and jumping about in their seats. It was a pity, losing the first twenty minutes of Sunset, o639 Hours, since it looked interesting through the moving mob.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown appeared to have taken a toll on BalletX. Several new members of the company replaced a few favorites. Zachary Kapeluck continues to amaze us with his fine dancing, here taking the role of Captain Musick. A last minute addition was veteran dancer Richard Villaverde, who was replacing Pete Leo Walker. Mr.Villaverde was superbly fluid, immensely agile, and an altogether pleasure to watch onstage. Indeed, he and Mr. Kapeluck were two of the strongest dancers this evening. The young dancers in the company shone with promise, creating memorable moments as well.
The choreography ranged from dancers as airplanes to poignant heterosexual couplings. One cabaret scene had two males dancing together, later to segue into the two dancers becoming birds, uncannily preening as parrots do, to the sounds of exotic birds, much to the delight of the audience. At the conclusion of the evening, the audience rose to their feet to give the company and enthusiastic standing ovation.
This is another winning evening of dance from Philadelphia’s great BalletX.
BalletX Presents Sunset, o639 Hours at The Suzanne Roberts Theatre from September 9 through 12, at 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $60 to $70 dollars, and can be purchased online at www.BalletX.org , or by calling the box office at 215-225-5389 x250. All seats are general admission.