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Le Ballet Mécanique

Though originally conceived as a soundtrack for French painter Fernand Léger’s film of the same name (pictured), George Antheil’s Le Ballet Mécanique seems just as likely to have been born of his memories of putting together a mock parade band with the kids down the street. The original piece, written in 1924, featured parts for three xylophones, a tam-tam, seven electric bells, a siren, and three airplane propellers. (Revisions for a 1953 version included adding a timpani and glockenspiel to the mix.) Due to poor planning, the piece ended up being too long to match to the film, and due to its requirement of 16 synchronized player pianos, it proved too impractical to be performed in its original form until the mid-’90s, though various other forms were attempted in the meantime. The National Gallery of Art is the latest venue to try its hand at the performance with the first-ever entirely mechanical version, accompanying its current “Dada” exhibition. Sixteen baby-grand player pianos are arranged in the gallery’s mezzanine lobby for the 10-minute rendition of the original score, and, in collaboration with Tufts University Ballet Mécanique expert Paul D. Lehrman, the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots has designed 140 robots to play the rest of the instruments, including three fans as stand-ins for the original airplane propellers. Léger’s 16-minute film may be viewed in the exhibition, without sound, in Gallery 13. Hear Le Ballet Mècanique in concert at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at 1 p.m Saturday and Sunday to Wednesday, March 29, at the National Gallery of Art East Building mezzanine, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Rebecca Corvino)