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New York City - Theatre

Inchoate Beauty:
Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company
City Center
October 18, 2007

Reviewed by William S. Gooch
Photos Courtesy of Morphoses

Opposite Photo:
Morphoses Company
in Wheeldon's "Fool's Paradise"'


There has been an ever-expanding void in the ballet world since the deaths of such great 20th-century choreographers as George Balanchine, Frederic Ashton, Kenneth McMillan, Jerome Robbins, and Agnes DeMille. Always looking for the next great choreographer, the ballet world has seemingly anointed Christopher Wheeldon as the terspsichorean master of the 21st century. However, the inaugural season of Wheeldon’s company, Morphoses, at New York’s City Center says something quite different about his rightful place among such dance luminaries.

On October 18, the company presented six different works, three of which were short pas de deux. Using dancers from such august companies as The New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and The National Ballet of Canada, Wheeldon’s ballets tend to be heaped with intricate, innovative partnering, but lack emotional depth.

"There Where She Loved" with music by Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill was the first ballet on the program. Attired in multicolored tunics and skirts, Wheeldon craftily maneuvers the dancers in and out of interesting movements and patterns. Influenced by Balanchine’s "Davidbunderlertanze" and "Liebeslieder Waltzer," and perhaps Robbins’ "Dances at a Gathering," the choreography in "There Where She Loved" demonstrates that Wheeldon has learned well from his masters, evidenced by interesting cradle lifts and partnered grande developpe rond de jambe. However, he has not mastered the art of allowing musical subtleties to inform the dance. Ignoring the intricacy of Chopin’s chansons, Wheeldon’s choreography never goes beyond the pretty, ‘go to heaven in pink light’ variety. He fares better with Weill’s leiders that embody the jazzy sensuality of 1920’s Berlin. Maria Kowroski and Michael Nunn are particularly effective in the pas de deux to Weill’s "Je ne t’aime pas." Informed by Weill’s leider about remorse and abandonment, Kowroski’s tension-filled extensions highlight the bluesy shadings of the music.

The next three ballets were all pas de deux of which "Tryst Pas de Deux" was the most successful. Reminiscent of Peter Martins’ "Calcium Night Light," in "Tryst Pas de Deux" Wheeldon employs angular, combative movements and off-center borrees. Royal Ballet megastars, Jonathan Cope and Darcey Bussell, with their combined stage presence, elevate the ballet from an otherwise pedagogic exercise to a work of some note.

"Dance of the Hours" was the most curious addition to the program. As the most traditionally classical piece of the evening, it wasn’t clear if Wheeldon was attempting to show his choreographic range or provide some comic relief. This interpolated ballet from the opera La Gioconda has always had an element of pastiche, but Wheeldon’s glitzy costumes and comedic use of the corps de ballet sends "Dance of the Hours" right over the edge.

The most engaging ballet of the evening was "Fool’s Paradise." With music by Joby Talbot and costumes by Narciso Rodriguez, Wheeldon creates a world on stage where nothing is constant or as it seems. In beige leotards, four couples connect, entwine, luxuriate, and change couplings while gold-like leaves fall in the background. Wheeldon uses his expert understanding of partnering to best effect in "Fool’s Paradise." Wheeldon uses supported full splits par terre that releve to full pointe. Synchronized sliding movements curve meticulously into partnered arabesques. When it comes to partnering, Wheeldon is to abstract ballet in the 21st century as McMillan was to British dramatic ballets of the 1960’s and 70’s.

"Fool’s Paradise" also welcomes back to the New York stage former New York City ballet dancer, Aesha Ash. Known for her formidable technique and complete investment in a role, Ash was completely underused at City Ballet. Fortunately, Wheeldon has created ballets that use Ash’s full range of dance skills. Whether being supported in a tautly sculptured arabesque or being lifted high in a precarious arc, Ash infuses every movement with passion and commitment.

It is too early to tell if Wheeldon can fill the very large shoes of a Balanchine or an Ashton. But, then again, no great choreographer is quite so great in the beginning; it takes a little time. Until then, the ballet world must be content to wait and watch the beauty and the artist mature.

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