BalletX offers a feast of delights

Chloe Felesina and Daniel Mayo take a turn in "Sunset, o639 Hours," at the Wilma.
Chloe Felesina and Daniel Mayo take a turn in "Sunset, o639 Hours," at the Wilma. (ALEXANDER IZILIAEV)
Posted: July 12, 2014

The fun thing about BalletX is that you never know what you are going to see. The roster of dancers changes often. The company specializes in new choreography from codirectors Matthew Neenan, Christine Cox, or whoever they feel like working with. The shows are usually good.

Then, there's Sunset, o639 Hours, a feast of entertainment, emotion, and moments of genius.

Sunset, which opened Wednesday night at the Wilma Theater, was created by Neenan and composer-musician Rosie Langabeer, a Kiwi who divides her time between Philadelphia and New Zealand. It is the story of Capt. Edwin Musick, an American aviator who in 1938 flew the first airmail flight between San Francisco and Auckland, with stops in Hawaii and Samoa. He was heralded for making the flight over 4,000 miles of open ocean, but his plane exploded on the way home.

The piece is a very different look for BalletX, almost a Broadway show of music and dance that envelops the audience in another world. It is not a story or a time that I knew, but a world that I do, having lived in New Zealand after college. I enjoyed spotting details, like the scenery that may have been letters, birds, or sails in Auckland's active harbor.

"It's nice that they [BalletX] are doing a traditional story ballet," my friend joked. But, indeed, Sunset had most of the elements: a faraway locale with its own (in this case Polynesian) music and dance, a tragic love story, a ghostly pas de deux - even divertissements, when the story was put aside for some showy nightclub dances or hulas on the beach in Hawaii.

The dancers play all the roles: captain and crew, local people, letter-writers from the mailbag, birds, even the wind, ocean, and plane.

Four musicians sing and play a variety of instruments on stage, and they are so good, they occasionally distract from the dance. Langabeer, one of the four as well as the composer, is a marvel, singing and playing the piano, trombone, and ukulele, all very well.

At times, the dancers contribute to the music, most notably in a scene set in Samoa. They sing and clap to a rhythmic beat - and sound impressive.

New Zealand has a plethora of native birds, and a scene at dawn had the dancers strutting, fluttering, and flapping, presumably displaying their fantails, large albatross wings, and long kiwi beaks.

The nightclub duets got everyone doing social dances, and even "tap" dancing in pointe shoes and ballet slippers.

Not all the pairs had chemistry. But Zachary Kapeluck as Musick and Chloe Felesina as his wife made up for it in spades. They danced a moving pas de deux in a scene where the captain lies on a beach and dreams of his wife, as well as a touching ending called "Ocean Ghosts," where Felesina stretches toward, leans on, and longs for her late husband.


Additional performances: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St. Tickets: $22-$40. Information: 215-546-7824.


edunkel@philly.com .


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