Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dance Review: Christopher Wheeldon’s Cohesive Company, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company at City Center

Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk in "One" Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company City Center , Credit Photo: Erin Baiano  Erin Baiano Photography Christopher Wheeldon is a jack-of-all trades as he takes on City Center in Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company’s third season.  He serves as artistic director, fundraiser, promoter, spokesperson, and host for the evening as he welcomed the audience at the start of Sunday’s matinee performance to sit back and enjoy the show.  Mr. Wheeldon’s underlying goal for the company is to bridge the divide that sometimes can occur between a ballet company and its audience. His hope is to attract an audience who is new to ballet through collaborations with different kinds of artists and the utilization of film as a way to show his company in their everyday, down-to-earth lives.  Within the show, Mr. Wheeldon presents us with an up-close-and-personal look at his dancers during their residency at Martha’s Vinyard this summer. The video shows the dancers in rehearsals, working on the dances, but it offers us another side to them as they hang out with each other or share a meal together. It is a successful attempt at showing the audience that yes, dancers are people too.

Mr. Wheeldon’s first piece to begin the program is Continuum (2002).  Dense and spiky music, composed by Gyogy Ligeti for the piano and harpsichord, depict within the dynamic score energy changes that evoke the feeling of a windmill or some sort of machine that relies on nature as its energy source. The dancers’ movements are naturally driven and unlike some ballet which can appear ornamental, Christopher Wheeldon’s dancers are moving from deep within.  The dancers wear forest green costumes which also evokes a natural quality to their movements. The gorgeous combination of duets, performed radiantly by Edward Liang and Danielle Rowe and the ever breathtaking Wendy Whelen and Matthew Prescott, add layers to this enchanting ballet. The Harpsichord Pas de deux, which occurs midway through the ballet, is played in rapid succession which, as Mr. Wheeldon explains at the beginning of the performance, is inspired by sparring between his cats and dog.  The use of a horizontal plane, in addition to the dancers moving with their backs parallel to the floor, connotes an animalistic quality to the dancers as well as the feeling that these ballet dancers can actually do modern dance as well!  What an amazing feat to be these beautiful ballerinas who are also able to perform modern dance styles.

Are You A Dancer?   Click Here.  Join iDANZ Today!The second piece of the performance, Softly as I Leave You (2009), is a quiet duet which was reworked by husband and wife team, Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon.  The piece begins with Drew Jacoby confined to a 300-lb black box which both restricts her and provides her with the ability to challenge these limits.   At times appearing resigned to her life in the box, she dynamically will switch into escape mode, realizing that there is something more to life than her existence in the box.  Rubinald Pronk appears with his amazing physicality and control.  Jacoby and Pronk are similar in their movement styles, appearing both controlled and cool in their movements, but also ferocious and exaggerated in other movements.  Softly as I Leave You evokes a combination of feeling regret and the process of letting someone go.  It is extremely sentimental, probably to a fault, but this gushiness is almost completely overlooked because of the amazing dancers.  Both Jacoby and Pronk save the day in what otherwise would have been considered a hackneyed theme about loss and letting go.

Rhapsody Fantaisie (2009) is the epitome of Wheeldon’s aims to combine different art forms. Los Carpinteros, a Havana-based collective created the memorable set designs for the dance. The pieces are three dimensional floating cones which create a fantastical image of romance and sensuality.  In addition to the set design, the costumes are designed by Fancisco Costa, the Women’s Creative Director of Calvin Klein Collection.  Rhapsody Fantaisie is a beautiful romantic ballet for six couples.  Mr. Wheeldon uses classical steps combined with sleek changes of weight shift in nature between whimsical duets and heartier group dances which are reminiscent of folk dance circles.  Similar to Continuum, the dancers are moving in and out of ballet and modern dance styles. The dancers continue to shine, in particular Melissa Barak.  Despite the fact that she performs a duet with Wendy Whelen, she is able to hold her own and prove herself next to this dancing diva.  Mr. Wheeldon’s choreography is extremely flattering on his dancers, especially the women who are able to be delicate and feminine and, at other times, articulate and sharp.  Wendy Whelen tops off the piece in the final duet where she dances with Andrew Crawford who must yield to all of Whelen’s power!  Despite her delicacy, she still appears to claim the stage which is truly a remarkable accomplishment.

Criticized for merely being a pick-up company with no real identity of it’s own, Christopher Wheeldon should be proud of how far his company has come since its inception three years ago.  Despite the fact that Wheeldon is unable to pay his dancers full-time, his company still feels like a cohesive organization.  The video at the beginning of the performance definitely helps to change my perception of these dancers.  I have always been under the impression that these types of dancers are all prima donnas who are all trying to outdo each other.  I am fairly confident now that this is not the case, and the dancers actually enjoy working together to produce a wonderful show.  Til next time…

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Official Dance Review by
Amanda Keller
Performance:  Morpheses/ The Wheeldon Company
Choreography:  Christopher Wheeldon
Venue: City Center, New York City
Show Date:  Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 3pm

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