Ballet Mechanique to Land in Washington, D.C.


The infamous Ballet mécanique is coming to Washington, DC, but not in any way it’s been heard before. And it’s not going to be for just one performance…it’s going to be played over 30 times.

George Antheil’s 1925 masterwork, which was never heard in its original version (for 10 percussionists, two pianists, three airplane propellers, electric bells, siren, and 16 player pianos) until 75 years after its composition, will be presented on the mezzanine of the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing every day for over two weeks, starting on March 12. Performing it will be 16 computer-controlled player grand pianos and an orchestra played entirely by robots. This means it will be the fastest, most maniacal, and–thanks to the cavernous acoustics of the giant building–the loudest Ballet mécanique ever performed.

In conjunction with a huge exhibit on Dadaist art, which runs from now through May, the Music department of the National Gallery has commissioned a Ballet mécanique installation, which will be on display and performing from March 12 through March 29. The all-mechanical orchestra will be located on the mezzanine, next to the entrance to the Dada exhibit hall. At 1:00 pm (every day) and 4:00 pm (weekdays only), the orchestra will roar into action and play a 10-minute version of the piece.

The player piano parts will be handled by 16 Gulbransen grand pianos equipped with Pianomation controls. The xylophone, bass drum, tam-tam, siren, propeller, and bell parts will be performed on real instruments by custom robots created by the League of Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) especially for this installation. The entire orchestra is under the control of a Macintosh G5 computer using Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer software.

A gala premiere event will be held at 1:00 pm on Sunday, March 12 (if you got an email from me earlier, please note this is a new date). I and Eric Singer, the director of LEMUR, will be present, no doubt frantically taking care of last-minute technical problems.

In addition, the film Ballet mécanique by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy will be shown (without sound) continuously as part of the Dada exhibit.

Please come and experience the latest 21st-century incarnation of this long-forgotten 20-century masterpiece. For more information on the Ballet mécanique, visit To see the work of LEMUR, visit And for the National Gallery, visit

In related news, my documentary film on George Antheil and the Ballet mécanique, Bad Boy Made Good, is now “on the schedule” at two northeastern PBS stations for the month of April. Details when they are available!

Hope to see you there,

Paul LehrmanBallet Mechanique to Land in Washington, D.C. (The Ballet Mechanique Page)

Via e-mail. I didn’t see it archived on the website.

The few pages on Ballet Mechanique in my dissertation were among the most enjoyable that I remember writing.

I’m not sure a 10-minute excerpt from the piece is worth the trip to D.C., but I’m thinking about it.

If you’re in the D.C. area and you get the chance to attend, I’d love to hear from you.