Give me Mor(e)phoses

On Friday evening, Allison and I headed to City Center to see the first program of Morphoses after much anticipation and what felt like a very long wait. Rather than write a full review, I’d like to share some thoughts on the performance – still rather lengthy, I know.

Although I usually do not like ballet accompanied by opera singing, I enjoyed Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved. There was a lot of detail in the partnering, which included unusual lifts and assemblages of three and sometimes four dancers. The opening section, entitled “The Wish”, had a lot of posing and less flow as the four male dancers lifted and manipulated the woman. One of the more memorable sections for me was “Spring”, danced by Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia. The opening was particularly interesting, with Hyltin and Garcia weaving in and out of each other’s paths along the floor. I also enjoyed the final section of the ballet, which showed Maria Kowroski and Michael Nunn involved in a fragile relationship that showed lust and desire in one instance, and pain and manipulation in the next. Throughout the ballet, the male characters dominated the women, and I wish that the women’s characters had more depth and perhaps more integrity. Setting aside the plots and characters’ emotions – which the dancers clearly conveyed – I think it’s important to point out how clean and polished this piece looked. The dancers were in top form and it showed.

While Morphoses performed at Sadlers’ Wells this past August, apparently a critic from the Sunday Telegragh wrote that Wendy Whelan’s costume in Forsythe’s Slingerland Pas de Deux looked like “a giant Pringle”! That is certainly not what I thought of when I saw Wendy in the piece. And I am a little shocked that a critic could come up with such a bizarre comparison while watching what I thought was an exquisite and beautifully executed pas de deux. I was really captivated by the movement, and Forsythe’s lighting, which occasionally showed the dancers in silhouette, added to the mysteriousness of this piece.

I think that the use of video before Dance of the Hours was an excellent way of giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a ballet. Audiences are so used to seeing a finished project, with little or no idea of what the rehearsal and creative process is like, that it’s refreshing to get a glimpse of the effort that goes into a ballet. Furthermore, as live dance struggles to find a younger audience, I think the use of video footage from rehearsals makes ballet – and all dance forms for that matter – more accessible. In this week’s NY Magazine, Wheeldon said, “One of the things I want to do is help audiences get over the idea [that] ballet has some mysterious code they can’t decipher”. Accomplishing this will take more than showing a video of rehearsals, but it’s a start. If there were video clips from rehearsals at every ballet performance I attended, I would not object.

Dance of the Hours was originally choreographed in September 2006 for the Metropolitan Opera, for Act III of La Giaconda. The music for this is well known because of the dancing hippos in Fantasia and the tune “Hello Mother, Hello Father”. Wheeldon’s Dance had sparkly, puffy tutus and a lot of cheezy, over-the-top choreography. Ashley Bouder was a perfect choice because of her sweet, innocent look and pure technique. About three minutes into the piece, I thought, “This is a joke, right?” By the end of the ballet, I was quite sure that this was Wheeldon’s way of expressing how he really feels about classical ballet. He has made clear that Morphoses is a contemporary ballet company that will be sexy and show raw, emotional physicality. Perhaps he included Dance of the Hours on the program to show the difference between classical and contemporary ballet. At least, I hope that’s why it was on the program.

The evening ended with Fools’ Paradise. I don’t want to write too much about it because I really feel like I need to see this piece again in order to fully take it in. The falling rose petals along the back added a constant movement and flow to the stage, without feeling too busy or chaotic. The petals, along with Joby Talbot’s hauntingly beautiful music (now on my ipod), added a soothing and peaceful quality to the piece. Overall, Fools Paradise stood out from this evening’s other ballets because of the interesting shapes that the dancers created with their bodies. One repetition I saw throughout the piece was a lift in which Craig Hall had Wendy Whelan horizontally across his shoulders. Her legs were bent at different angles, with feet pointed and her back arched, and Hall’s arms spread in different directions. I was mesmerized as they slowly spun in circles and then moved about the stage. This piece certainly showed Wheeldon’s abilities at their best. He excels at creating unthinkable shapes and moving sculptures with the body – that is, with two or more bodies working together. I’m looking forward to seeing the second program on Sunday.

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