Sunset, o69 Hours | BalletX during the Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival, Aug. 11 & 12, 2015….
The only thing that can be said, or at least I can say of BalletX and Sunset, o69 Hours, a Co-production by Matthew Neenan and Rosie Langabeer, is that it was odd, strange, puzzling and sometimes perplexing …but without a doubt downright brilliant.
Everything about the production was an unexpected and a very well received surprise, and not just for me. I have been attending performances of at the Joyce for over 30 years…way back when the theater was home to the Eliot Feld Ballet…but I have never witnessed such a standing ovation as was given to BalletX after their performance of Sunset, o69 Hours…literally every single person in the audience were on their feet, applauding, yelling, a few even hooted…
Sunset, o69 Hours, is the tragic tale of the first airmail service flight between Now Zealand and United States that took place in 1938 …air travel in the early parts of the 20th Century were fraught with peril hence the tragedy of the tale. Known for his meticulous attention to safety Captain Edwin Musick and a crew of six were surprised to find that shortly after their departure from Pago Pago an oil leak was discovered. Deciding to dump the fuel and return to Pago Pago for repairs the plane unexpectedly exploded in mid-air, killing all.
Now it sounds a bit dreary but the production is anything but. Lighting Designer Drew Billiau and Set Designer Maiko Matsushima must both be commended for creating a world that allows one’s imagination to soar. You experienced the thrill of that period’s cabaret and the crews welcoming after landing in America Samoa and Pago Pago.
The music and/or soundscape was the brilliant invention of Nick Kourtides and Neil Feather. While the New Zealand composer and musician Rosie Langabeer portrayed a cabaret chanteuse whose enchanting voice was a delight…
Interwoven throughout the work are read love letters from that period as well official administrative correspondence concerning the flight and its significance mail delivery world-wide.
Matthew Neenan’s genius shines in his choreographic choices. His approach and use of the body in space is anything but ordinary. The dancers would one moment be moving with assured elegance and then unexpected become birdlike, heads jutting forward, one should raises while the other is lowered. Arms start to swing like propellers of an airplane then bodies lie prone on the floor with the spine arched, arms extended to the side with feet raised as if in mimicry of an airplane in flight.
There is a delightful childlike quality, a seeming innocence if you will, that was found in the piece as if the creators were reminding the audience not to take this too seriously, to just sit back and enjoy. (…I kept expecting a cart to come rolling down the aisle with stewardesses offering beverage choices…)
The music is colorful, full of life in and of itself. It is the sounds of the an age, melodic yet percussive and with a hint of Tango here and there.
Everything about the performance of BalletX was superb. Edgar Anido and Richard Villaverde must be commended on their outstanding performances as well as Caili Quan who moved with such delicious lyricism and strength.