BalletX returns to the Philadelphia stage on September 9, 2021, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre with Matthew Neenan’s Sunset, o639 Hours. The full-length ballet is one of the company’s most popular pieces. Using dance, original music, and archival radio broadcasts, it tells the story of the ill-fated 1938 first mail flight from New Zealand to Hawaii. Musicians interact with the dancers on stage as they move from a jazzy New Year’s Eve party to an island greeting to the tragic grief of loss at home. Zachary Kapeluck returns as the Captain, and Francesca Forcella steps into the role of the wife. Audiences will also get their first look at the company’s new dancers, including Pete Leo Walker, previously at the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
A special farewell
The September 11 performance will include a Q&A with dancer Chloe Perkes, who is leaving the company. Christine Cox, BalletX’s artistic and executive director, said, “We’re really honoring her career here, just talking about her journey.” Perkes had a baby during the pandemic and has relocated to California with her family, but the company is flying her in because, Cox said, “Chloe deserves a real special goodbye. At least an opportunity for the audience to see her and say ‘thank you.’”
It’s an early start for the season. The company had a busy summer of outdoor performances that started with a successful run at the Mann Music Center. Then, the company performed in Vail, Colorado and the Ballet Sun Valley festival in Idaho. However, they wasted no time coming back home to have the Philadelphia performances as soon as possible. Cox explained, “The ballet needed to still be fresh and alive in the dancers’ body and the musicians’ voices and their fingertips, so I didn’t want too much time to pass since our last performance.”
To do that, the company will open at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, where they had more wiggle room about the timing, Cox said. They will be taking full Covid-19 precautions: they have reduced audience size to no more than 70 percent of the theater’s capacity and audience members must show vaccination cards or a negative Covid test taken not more than 48 hours before the performance. Masks are also required.
While acknowledging that some may still feel hesitant to return to the theater, Cox reminded me, “We got vaccinated to be able to get back to living.” And she left me with one last thought: “I don’t know when we will next be doing Sunset.” So I, for one, will be masking up and proudly showing my vax card at the door.
What, When, Where
Sunset o639 Hours. BalletX. September 9 through 12, 2021 (times and pre-show events vary), at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street. General admission tickets range from $60-70 and are available from BalletX, 215-225-5389 (x250) or balletx.org.