The publicity Wheeldon has received from The New York Times, New York Magazine, the BBC and others has consistently emphasized that Wheeldon seeks to prove that ballet=sexy. Most people think of ballet as tutus and a rather dull presentation of meaningless movement. Morphoses is pure prowess of movement and the ability of that movement to pique a viewer’s aesthetic interest and emotional reaction.
Evan wrote at length about some of the pieces in Program One- There Where She Loved, Vicissitude and Slingerland. We’d seen Wheeldon’s choreography at New York City Ballet and in Miller Theater’s 2006 New Ballets, so we weren’t surprised by the ingenuity of Wheeldon’s works, particularly the creativity he brings to partnering. What was surprising was seeing Dance of the Hours, the “mockery ballet” danced by Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia. This is what most non-aficionados probably associate with ballet- cheesy smiles and bejeweled tutus. The piece ends with Gonzalo doing a bunch of grande pirouettes à la seconde with Bouder circling him with piquè turns. This is the ballet equivalent of a novel ending with “and they lived happily ever after” in that it’s trivial and tired.
Evan turned to me at the end of Dance of the Hours and said, “Well, now we know how Christopher Wheeldon really feels about classical ballet.” Indeed we did, but we were both unsure how we felt about Wheeldon incorporating this ballet in his repertoire. Did we need to pay to see a ballet that highlighted his opinion that most classical storybook or operatic ballets lack depth?
The next and last piece of the program, Fools’ Paradise confirmed that yes, its inclusion was paramount. The juxtaposition between Hours and Paradise proved that ballet can be unquestionably sexy. Paradise began with shiny paper (Evan says petals but I thought they looked silver) falling behind the scrim, eerily illuminated by boom lights. The movement was delicate and profound and ended with all nine phenomenally beautiful dancers attached to one another in a pyramid like sculpture of legs, pointe shoes, arms and fingers, all lifted and interlaced. Joby Talbot’s ‘Dying Swan’ orchestration added an overwhelming elegiac quality to the entire piece.
Wheeldon proved with Paradise that ballet is not just sexy, ballet can be a patois more powerful than language. Watching a beautiful ballet like Paradise can feel like finding your center when it’s otherwise lost. It can be an expression of sentiments so intensely intimate they cannot be expressed to family, a close friend, or a lover. This is dance. Wheeldon undoubtedly accomplishes this in his ballets and the debut of Morphoses is not only an extraordinary success but a true ‘Revolution in Tights.’
- Watch a slideshow narrated by Christopher Wheeldon and accompanied by the Joby Talbot score
- New York Times slideshow