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Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company

Programme Two

by Ana Abad-Carles

September 21, 2007 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

When the announcement of a new company under choreographer Christopher Wheeldon came out, it all sounded like good news for the dance world and  the young choreographer's career, as it is well known that artistic independence tends to inspire and act as a catalyst for creativity.

Wheeldon's new company appeared on the stage of Sadler's Wells on Wednesday, 19 September. I missed the first programme, but managed to see the second one.

It seemed strange that a choreographer who writes "Ballet isn't just about heritage. The Sleeping Beauty is immensely important, but it is not necessarily everyone's first choice for a night out" as Wheeldon does in the opening programme notes, chooses Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante" as the opening ballet for his new company. Somehow, it clashes with the whole concept of watching a new company that has set itself the challenge of bringing in new audiences and making ballet vital again... Alexandra Ansanelli and Angel Corella led a very good group of dancers who brought great zest to the piece, but I somehow felt Wheeldon's choice of ballet seemed to contradict everything he had set himself to do.

After "Allegro Brillante" came the best piece of the evening, William Forsythe's "Slingerland Pas de Deux". I have to admit that I am no great fan of Forsythe. However, the duet, exceptionally danced by Wendy Whelan partnered by Edwaard Liang was outstandingly beautiful. Forsythe managed to reconcile his style and vocabulary with meaningful use of space and movement. The feelings that emerged from  the short work mesmerised you and transported you while making you wish it had continued for a little bit longer.

"Fool's Paradise" was the first of the new Wheeldon pieces and what a disappointing work it was! Like his work for the Bolshoi before, it seems Wheeldon has very little to say when he tries to deal with feelings and human relationships. "Fool's Paradise" was an aimless and pointless work where nothing seemed to happen. Dancers shared the stage... and very little else.

While watching this work I couldn't help wondering what happened to the talent of this young man... and his nurturing by some of the greatest choreographers in history.  Why  he has learnt so little from Robbins, Ashton, MacMillan, and Balanchine's works apart from the mechanics and mathematics in them?

The last piece "After the Rain" was again uneven. While the first part succeeded in keeping one’s attention for the sheer mathematics of its composition, the second part, a long duet for Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall, was as pointless as the previous piece.

Perhaps it is a sign of the age in which we live, where things are shallow and meaning lacks depth. Perhaps Wheeldon is right in his works in portraying aimless and hollow relationships between people, as maybe that is all there is to see and live through at the moment.  However, one can't help feeling sorry about the lack of development of what seemed to be real choreographic talent. If these works that had not had outstanding dancers to bring them to life, they would have been really bad. Their lack of emotional depth and continuous search for cleverness ended up producing inconsistent choreographic invention.

For a choreographer who wants to bring in new audiences, there is a first lesson to be learned:  shallow intellectualism is not the best avenue. Wheeldon needs to go out and really see what young people are watching and enjoying at the moment, and then decide if this is what he really wants to do. But whatever he decides, there is a need for him to take risks... and forget the rules!

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