CriticalDance Forum

Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK
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Author:  David [ Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:27 am ]
Post subject:  Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

Commedia, Leaving Songs, Softly as I leave You, Boléro
Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; October 21, 2009

The good news is that Christopher Wheeldon is back in town with Morphoses. As always he has brought together a group of exciting dancers well worth watching. The evening did get off to an excellent start with a reprise of “Commedia”, his playful, contemporary, abstract take on commedia dell’arte. The disappointment was that the rest of the programme rather drifted.

Unfortunately Wheeldon felt the need to introduce the evening in person, giving a thankfully short speech during which he did little but thank the venue for having him, and preface each work with a film showing the company in rehearsal, having dinner and the like at Martha’s Vineyard in the summer. I assume this is all part of some grand idea for making ballet more accessible or user-friendly, and, to be fair, the films were a distinct improvement on the pally, jokey efforts of the Balletboyz, but Wheeldon’s choreography in particular quite happily speaks for itself. They really are not needed.

Anyway, back to the dance. In a sense “Commedia” reflects Morphoses status as a group of travelling players who have come together. Danced primarily in Isabel Toledo’s gorgeous white unitards with variously spaced black diamonds that make the dancers look like Harlequins, and danced to Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite”, the ballet remains an absolute delight. Wheeldon’s unerring sense of choreographic shape and structure, his ability to create and break tableaux without making them look contrived, and his sensibility to the music, are evident throughout. The highlight was the central duet between the effervescent, spiky Leanne Benjamin and her perfect partner, the rock solid Edward Watson, both on loan from The Royal Ballet and who managed to flirt with each other through a series of sometimes complex and difficult supports.

Australian choreographer Tim Harbour’s “Leaving Songs”, getting its world premiere, didn’t even come close. Harbour told us on film that it was about the circularity of life and death, the ending of things and the beginning of something new. Ross Edwards’ music certainly has a largely elegiac feel. Danced mostly in shadowy light, with the men bare-chested in green-blue tights and the women in pink leotards, its series of overlapping duets and trios are pleasant enough. Yet the most memorable thing about it is the large, clear balloons that are carried and swung round by the cast, and which I assume are supposed to represent tears.

It was just as well “Leaving Songs” was followed by an interval because had it been followed immediately by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon’s “Softly As I leave You” a fair number of the audience would probably have been dozing nicely. It starts with the tall, powerful Drew Jacoby apparently trapped inside a box, open to the audience. She does a great deal of slamming, twisting and thrashing about before simply stepping out to greet the arrival of the supremely lithe Rubinald Pronk. Now dancing to Arvo Pärt’s beautiful but sleepy “Spiegel am Spiegel”, which features in Wheeldon’s own haunting “After the Rain”, the couple seem desperately troubled. There is lots of athletic twisting and turning before they both get in the box, where they anguish more, before he kisses her on the cheek before she walks away. It is impossible not to enjoy the athleticism of the two dancers, but there is definitely better material for it than this.

Made in Copenhagen in 2001, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Boléro” is yet another disappointing attempt at choreographing to the Ravel. The cast of three men and three women with numbers on their chests suggestive of a competition show lots of neat steps and lines, but the dance often seems at odds with the score. The choreography fails to acknowledge its power, Ratmansky instead using conventional steps to search for a softer sense of beauty that quite simply is not there. There are occasional moments when it seems a dramatic climax might be coming, but it never arrives, and the dance is ultimately drowned by the music.

The orchestra, like the dancers assembled from various ensembles, was conducted by Paul Murphy.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Oct 24, 2009 11:02 am ]
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Debra Crane reviews the Sadler's Wells performance of Morphoses in The Times:

The Times

Author:  David [ Sun Oct 25, 2009 9:06 am ]
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Continuum, Softly as I Leave You, Rhapsody Fantaisie
Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; October 24, 2009

Morphoses’ second London programme once again got underway with the now obligatory personal introduction by Christopher Wheeldon. This one was rather more engaging than that earlier in the week though. Wheeldon seemed rather more relaxed, probably because he had got the premiere his new ballet “Rhapsody Fantaisie” over and done with the previous evening. He also included some insight into the thoughts and inspiration behind the works on show that were not in the programme, much more the sort of thing he needs to do.

Of course we still had the videos. I understand they might be interesting for those not familiar with what it is like to rehearse and be away with a company, but Wheeldon also needs to be careful they do not pad out the show unnecessarily. And, if there are two programmes, as in London, it would be a good idea to have two sets of films. I would guess that most people in for programme 2 had already sat through the films when in for programme 1, and I am sure there was sufficient footage to put together some more.

As in programme one, the best work of the evening came first. Created for San Francisco Ballet in 2002, “Continuum” is Wheeldon’s second work to the piano music of Gyorgy Ligeti, and clearly comes from the same stable as his first, “Polyphonia”. The opening is deceptively simple. The dancers walk in patterns, but they quickly become ever more complex, lines and groups forming and reforming so fluidly you wonder where they came from.

As the ballet moves into a series a pas de deux, Ligeti’s sometimes discordant music provides an interesting counterpoint to the dance. There appears to be more than a hint of Wheeldon’s New York City Ballet background, and in particular Balanchine’s black and white ballets, in the way the men carefully and precisely manipulate the women. They are folded and twisted into endless beautiful and inventive poses as if they were pieces of paper being used for origami. There is a calmness to proceedings even when there is a sense of competition or aggression, as in the one Harpsichord section, which Wheeldon had earlier explained was partly inspired by watching what happened when his cat and dog fell out. That calmness, even at times meditative feel persists to the end, when he presents a beautiful final image, with all the dancers in silhouette in yoga poses.

Lightfoot-Léon’s “Softly As I Leave You” held the attention much better than when seen earlier in the week, which suggests the problem may have been primarily one of programming, rather than with the ballet itself. On this evening much greater intensity flowed from both Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk, although during the first minutes of the section danced to Arvo Part the choreography and performance it did start to seem to be more about steps than any deep relationship between them. The audience loved it all the same, and it got easily the best reception of the week.

The first thing that strikes you with Wheeldon’s new “Rhapsody Fantaisie” is the dramatic bright red colour of the costumes, designed by Francisco Costa, Women’s Creative Director of Calvin Klein Collection. The second thing to hit you is how completely unflattering they are. The voluminous trousers worn by the men looked a little like Cossack trousers, but with three times the material, and the dresses merely succeeded in making the women look frumpy, which is quite an achievement given how Morphoses’ fabulous dancers really look.

In the choreography Wheeldon tries to show us he can do more conventionally romantic, emotional dance too. And “Rhapsody Fantaisie” is a long way from “Continuum” in music and dance. Set to selections from Rachmaninov piano suites it is full of regular steps and the sort of pas de deux more familiar to the audience; one reason I’m sure why it got such a good reception. And it most certainly has its moments. Highlights are a nicely understated duet for Wendy Whelan and Matthew Prescott, and a lengthy dance for all six men that, although full of all the requisite strong movement, I suspect would look equally good danced by women.

All this was accompanied by the outstanding playing of Cameron Grant and Jonathan Higgins on piano, and Hugo Dalton’s neon-looking designs. At different times the latter were projected on to various parts of the stage and auditorium. Best of all were a series of scribble-like squiggles that reflected the choreography at that point and its circling wrists and elbows. It was an idea worth trying, but overdone, unnecessary, and at times out of keeping with the dance.

If Wheeldon has a problem, it is that he has set the bar so high, and raised expectations so much, that it comes as a big disappointment when, as here, he falls even a little short. But not everything can be outstanding, and he most certainly should not stop trying new things, new collaborations, and new approaches.

Morphoses can next be seen at New York’s City Center from October 29 to November 1 (, and at Amsterdam’s Het Muziektheater from November 12-15 (

Author:  David [ Sun Oct 25, 2009 9:07 am ]
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As an aside to the above reviews, what is it with Sadler's Wells these days? The theatre's inability to get running times accurate on its website is fast approaching legendary status, but for Morphoses they really surpassed themselves.

The website said programme 1 would finish at 9.22. The programme said 9,20, as did announcements in the theatre immediatly before curtain up. The show finally finished at 10.02.

Programme 2 was even worse. The website said 9.15. The theatre staff said 9.50. It actually finished at 10.16. And, unlike on programme 1, I wasn't even there on the first night.

The theatre must realise that people do travel from out of town, often on train tickets that are restricted to specific services. The last thing I want is for them to stop giving running times out, and of course they will always be approximate, but this week they were not even close.

Author:  Gavin Roebuck [ Tue Oct 27, 2009 9:44 am ]
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Some reviews:
The Stage Programme One ... on-company
The Stage Programme Two ... on-company
The Observer: ... lers-wells

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Feb 23, 2010 10:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

Ismene Brown reports a stunning development: Christopher Wheeldon has resigned as artistic director of his own company. Her report in The Arts Desk.

The Arts Desk

Author:  David [ Wed Feb 24, 2010 5:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

I guess both Wheeldon and Lopez have a point. Wheeldon says he is available 17 weeks a year, but can a company really run with its artistic director absent for 35 weeks a year?

I fear it will mean the end of company. Whatever Lopez and Wheeldon say, Morphoses sold tickets very much on his name and his choreography - certainly here in the UK. And so far as new choreography goes, it was really only his that was top notch. I suppose miracles might happen, and they patch up their differences, but it doesn't sound like it right now. I also suspect that many of the fantastic dancers he took on or 'borrowed' went there because of him.

It will be interesting to see how Birmingham Royal Ballet copes here in the UK when David Bintley takes up his second artistic directorship - National Theatre Ballet of Tokyo and BRB. Will the same problems start to arise, I wonder.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Feb 24, 2010 4:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

Debra Craine reports on the Morphoses situation in The Times.

The Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Feb 25, 2010 3:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

Judith Mackrell on Wheeldon's departure from Morphoses in The Guardian.

The Guardian

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed May 05, 2010 3:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in the UK

Judith Mackrell interviews Christopher Wheeldon three months after walking away from Morphoses.

The Guardian

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