“Morphoses: The Wheeldon Company”
Sadler's Wells Theatre
19 – 23 September 2007
by John Percival
copyright 2007 by John Percival
I think I never saw a new company hailed with so much hype and advance publicity as Christopher Wheeldon's. And large audiences applauded enthusiastically the nights I was present. Yet the first reviews have been very mixed, suggesting that he still has a lot to learn about how to use his talent and other people's goodwill.
In fairness, let's start by noting Wheeldon's recognition that his troupe Morphoses “needs to build and grow over time. My vision is something that may not be fulfilled for five or six years ... Dreams take time.” In fact he will not recruit a permanent company until 2009. Meanwhile he has started with temporary pick-up groups. This year he has offered short seasons in Vail, Colorado (August), at Sadler's Wells, London (September) and New York City Center (October) with different but overlapping casts and repertoire. The London programme book named twenty performers but two of them were not listed for any role, and a third was replaced in her one announced part. And apart from Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg from the Royal Ballet, and ABT's Angel Corella, each in only one ballet, the rest were all members or in two instances former members of New York City Ballet, where Wheeldon continues as resident choreographer until next summer.
He says he will not be sole choreographer although at first “there will probably be more Wheeldon on view than I would want” because he can keep royalties low that way. Eventually “I would love to go heavy on the commissions” to give the dancers “a really broad artistic experience”. Meanwhile, London saw two programmes, both including an interesting pas de deux from William Forsythe's “Slingerland”. Less explicable was the inclusion in Programme One of “Vicissitude”, a duet by Edwaard Liang to a Mahler arrangement of a quartet by Schubert (“Death and the Maiden”). Many of us found this boring.
A new “Prokofiev Pas de Deux” by Wheeldon for Cojocaru and Kobborg, to andante assai from Violin Concerto No 2, was pleasant but unexciting. And giving the Wheeldon, Liang and Forsythe duets as a group led to too little variety on a show that began with Wheeldon's 2002 “Morphoses” to Ligeti and ended with his 2005 “After the Rain” to Arvo Part, since although these used respectively four and six dancers, they were presented mostly as couples. Both, incidentally, starred Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall — an impressive pair (much praised even by several critics who could not bring themselves to sit through “After the Rain” again when given another showing on Programme Two).
This second programme included another Wheeldon premiere, “Fool's Paradise”, at 27 minutes the week's longest work. I can't say I was enthralled by Toby Jalbot's music (mystifyingly announced as “The Dying Swan orchestral version”) but I gather that he is well regarded. So too is the fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez, responsible for the boringly minimal costumes. No doubt the ballet's title seems meaningful to Wheeldon, but the dances look just a collection of entries, again often for two or three dancers but sometimes bringing on all nine. He has done more interesting work when he found more illuminating scores.
For me, much the most enjoyable work all week was “Allegro brillante” — not hitherto one of my favourite Balanchine ballets, but brilliantly danced with a cast headed by Alexandra Ansanelli and Angel Corella, who also gave it an unexpectedly tender warmth in their partnering. For once I could see the inspiration Balanchine took from Tchaikovsky's music. Wheeldon says he wants to lure new audiences into the theatre, and obviously reckons new work is important in this, but the sheer exhilaration that can be found in watching “Allegro brillante” raises the question whether novelty is the only way.
Another thing about “Allegro” is that it was well lit — drawing attention to the gloomy look of other ballets given. Couldn't Wheeldon's designers set a better example which maybe other companies could follow? Meanwhile, hearty thanks for having all the music played live: that's something we hear too rarely with modern companies.
Top: Christopher Wheeldon in rehearsal with members of Morpohses. Photo by Schulman Brothers.
Bottom: Wendy Wheelan and Sebastian Marcovici in "After the Rain." Photo by Paul Kolnik.