Adrian Danchig-Waring, Wendy Whelan, and Tyler Angle rehearsing Monotones II
photo by Yaniv Schulman
The second Morphoses program was not only more varied than the first, but more complete as a whole. Three short pieces were bookended by Wheeldon works, with the new Commedia opening the program and Fools’ Paradise closing it.
I wrote at length about Commedia in my review of the gala performance, but I appreciated the piece much more upon a second viewing. The duet for Leann Benjamin and Beatriz Stix-Brunell looked sophisticated, and in spite of the dancers’ age difference (Benjamin is 44, Stix-Brunell is 15), both danced with refreshing energy and youthfulness. The rest of the cast seemed more vibrant than in the first performance, too. Although the piece still lacked coherency as it wandered from one duet or solo to the next, there were intriguing moments of choreography, and I think there’s still more to be discovered.
Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk in One, photo by Amitava Sarkar
Due to an injured dancer, Frederick Ashton’s pas de deux from The Dream was replaced with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s One, performed by and created specifically for Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk. The electronic score by Jacob Ter Vedhuis is filled with French phrases – rapidly recited by a woman – that are repeated and echoed throughout the piece. Wearing sheer black leotards, the dancers’ sinewy bodies moved seamlessly through off-balance poses and push-pull tensions while maintaining a gripping connection to one another. Dramatically harsh lighting, shifting between black and white, contributed to the intensity of this brief duet, which could have been a bit shorter. Lopez Ochoa’s choreography grew repetitive to the extent that the piece became less effective near its end. Nevertheless, Jacoby and Pronk are incredible artists, and One would certainly be less intriguing if performed by dancers lacking the remarkable chemistry that they possess.
Spoken word was also used in Shutters Shut, a wonderfully weird duet created by Lightfoot León (a pseudonym for Paul Lightfoot and Sol León). Christine Thomassen and Andreas Heise performed a series of sharp, quirky gestures to the rhythmic recitation of a poem by Gertrude Stein, which can be read in its entirety here. Lightfoot Leon’s choreography, executed by the dancers with immaculate precision and whim, reflected the absurdity of Stein’s poem. The four-minute piece exemplified how spoken word can serve as effective, melodious accompaniment for movement.
Lynn Wallis rehearsing Monotones II with Adrian Danchig-Waring, Wendy Whelan, and Tyler Angle, photo by Yaniv Schulman
The second cast of Ashton’s Monotones II was stronger than the first, and the dated look of the ballet contrasted nicely with One and Shutters Shut. Wendy Whelan, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Tyler Angle were comfortable and at ease with the choreography, luxuriating in every slow, developing extension. Whelan emphasized the serene otherworldliness of Erik Satie’s score, while Angle and Danchig-Waring partnered her with poise and elegance. As a trio, they conveyed a cool dreamscape of movement.
Fools’ Paradise, which had its US premiere at City Center last fall, closed the program. Eerie golden lighting, falling glittery paper, and hauntingly beautiful music by Joby Talbot combined to create a mysterious atmosphere. The dancers’ bodies often formed sculptures that were held just long enough for the audience to absorb their profundity. Interestingly, the most striking image in the piece was exactly what I noticed in 2007: Craig Hall spread his arms while balancing Wendy Whelan horizontally across his shoulders, with her legs bent at different angles and back arched as Hall spun in slow circles. This image along with many others evoked the varying moods of Talbot’s score – meditative, hopeful, and elegiac. But the memorable images still didn’t fully capture the emotional depth or fragility of the music. Perhaps with more flow of movement and less posing, this could have been attained. Nevertheless, the cast of nine was superb as they delicately interlaced their bodies to create Wheeldon’s unthinkable shapes and sculptures.
Dancers in Fools’ Paradise, photo by Erin Baiano
Morphoses is still young and its future uncertain. But this well-rounded program, performed by a brilliant ensemble of dancers, leads me to believe that Wheeldon is on the right path to furthering his artistic goals for the company and making an enduring contribution to contemporary ballet.