Rosie Langabeer discuss music and theater collaboration

6 mins read

Rosie Langabeer, an award-winning musician and experimental composer, came to campus on Thurs. January 28 to lead a discussion with a group of faculty and students about music and theater and dance collaborations.

Langabeer, who is a native of New Zealand, was invited to campus as part of a series of workshops related to BalletX. Though she has worked on a number of theater and dance projects in both the United States and New Zealand, one of her biggest successes has been her collaboration with BalletX’s founder, Matthew Neenan. This piece they collaborated on, called “Sunset, o639,” premiered in 2014 and was met with great enthusiasm.

The ballet recounts the historical tale of the first mail service between New Zealand and the United States. Neenan and Langabeer, who met through a mutual friend while Langabeer was working on “Twelfth Night” with the Pig Iron Theatre Company, wanted to create a piece that connected their two countries.

“Matthew [Neenan] was asked to compose something so we started brainstorming . [We thought] what about something between New Zealand and the USA? I don’t know how we found the story, probably Googling, but we came up with the story of the first mail service that connected New Zealand and the USA. [And we said] this story seems operatic.”

“Sunset, o639,” set in the 1930s, spans from the cabarets of Auckland, New Zealand, to Samoa, to Hawaii. The music in the ballet incorporates many aspects of the musical traditions of these various cultures.

As an experimental composer, Langabeer worked a great deal with improvisation when working on the ballet, collaborating with Neenan and the dancers in BalletX to create a piece that wove together the choreography and the music.

“It was like two really loosely woven things that could come together and then we could weave them together rather than a finished blanket and another finished blanket coming and becoming a thing together. That’s what people notice about the piece. It does feel really connected and intertwined,” Langabeer said.

When asked by a student in the audience how she thought musical composers and choreographers could work together even though they essentially speak two different languages, she replied that it all depends on the relationship and mutual respect between the two.

“You have [to have] a relationship with each other and have to be getting along and appreciating each other’s work. You want to be working with people who bring out the best in you and you bring out the best in them and you both feel like you are dealing with the same amount of mystery in what you’re doing so it’s not too frightening or too boring.” Langabeer said.

She continued by showing video clips of some of her work with BalletX and “Sunset, o639,” as well as her work with the Pig Iron Theatre Company. These clips showcased her interest in including the musicians on the stage with the dancers, since in many of the clips, she herself, along with three or four other musicians, plays an accordion, clarinet or guitar on stage.

Growing up in a musical family, Langabeer was encouraged to acquire these wide-ranging skills. However, she did not really come to terms with her own experimental, creative side until later in life.

“I’m not the sort of composer that has really conceptual ideas and goes around and writes a whole orchestral score. I’m more like: let’s get in the room together and see what we’ve got. That was not the composer that I grew up understanding … to be a composer, so I didn’t really value myself as a composer for a while until I realized this is just a different way to do it.” Langabeer said.

She concluded the discussion by playing some recordings of her improvisation sessions, remarking on the various, unusual instruments that were used. For example, in one song that ended up as part of the Hawaiian element in “Sunset, o639,” she identified a specific sound and said that it was a recording of her sitting on her bedroom floor, rattling some leftover pistachio shells in her hands.

It is these sorts of quirky, unexpected, and thought-provoking processes that Rosie Langabeer is known for. Additionally, her website, which she pulled up on the screen with much pride and amusement, exhibits her lack of interest in becoming superbly famous and her desire to create simply because she loves music and enjoys working with people.

“If the money’s there, that’s great. And if not, that’s great too” Langabeer said.

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