Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company
October 18, 2007
Reviewed by William S. Gooch
Photos Courtesy of Morphoses
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
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
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.