Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company
Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
Friday 21 September 2007
When the announcement of a new company by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon came out, it all sounded like good news for the dance world and for 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 to me that a choreographer who claims that "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 make 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 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 transpired the short work mesmerised you and took you along this piece while making you wish it continued for a little bit longer.
"Fool's Paradise" was the first of the new Wheeldon's pieces and what a disappointing work this 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 and 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. How come he has learnt so little from Robbins, from Ashton, from MacMillan, from Balanchine's works apart from the mechanics and mathematics in them?
The last piece "After the Rain" was again an uneven piece. While the first part succeeded in keeping your 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 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, I can't help feeling sorry for the lack of development of what seemed to be real choreographic talent. If these works that were presented by Wheeldon's company had not had outstanding dancers to bring them to life, they would have been really bad. Their lack of emotional depth and their continuous search for cleverness ended up producing inconsistent choreographic invention.
For a choreographer that wants to bring in new audiences to the theatre, there is a first lesson to be learnt... shallow intellectualism is not the best way to go about this. Wheeldon needs to go out and really get to 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!