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The Wheeldon Company
New York City Center
Oct 17–21, 2007
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Morphoses’ charter season of two programs at City Center offered much to savor: an all-star cast, live music, and a concentration of Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography. And yet the latter became a liability, particularly in Program One, comprising a duet by William Forsythe and five Wheeldon dances, which were not diverse enough stylistically, thematically, or dynamically to sustain a long evening. Program Two addressed this somewhat by featuring five choreographers’ works, but programming should receive far more careful thought in coming seasons. That said, there was an undeniable sense of excitement in the house and about the season as a whole.
Wheeldon excels at streamlining ballet’s vocabulary and illuminating essential geometries of the stage. He creates fresh movement within the dancers’ capabilities (for this group, substantial), resulting in a flattering style that casts traditional ballet technique in a modern light. In Morphoses (2002), four dancers lay on their backs to form a cross then rolled to skew the shape, which seemed remarkably new. Some motifs recalled animals/insects—claw-shaped fingers, or crawling offstage on pointes and fingertips like spiders. Mesmerics (2003) featured eight onstage cellists who joined the pit-situated Orchestra of St. Luke’s to play Philip Glass’ score. But Wheeldon relied on decorative arm gestures and familiar canons.
In There Where She Loved (2000), songs by Chopin alternating with ones by Kurt Weill showed how music can guide the emotional path of a dance, with sections reprised to both upbeat and sad music. At times, ballet felt inadequately loose for Weill’s jazzy songs. The major premiere of the run, Fools’ Paradise, sparkled with falling confetti and slashing planes of light. The nine dancers broke into pairs and trios, performing lifts with angled limbs or balanced weight, and a favored split arabesque. A picturesque tableau built of prior poses sealed the finale. Jody Talbot composed the score of sighing strings and walking bass lines.
Several pas de deux showed Wheeldon’s craftsmanship in partnering, buoyed by dream casts including Darcey Bussell, Jonathan Cope, Alina Cojocaru (all of The Royal Ballet); some of New York City Ballet’s finest in Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Ashley Bouder, Craig Hall, and Edwaard Liang; and William Trevitt, Michael Nunn, and Oxana Panchenko from Ballet Boyz, who also contributed arty film clips. Bussell and Cope teamed in the inventive Tryst (2002). Her legs became prybars for her body, or formed a split across his thighs like a beam; hips led shoulders in slouchy walks. The confection titled Prokofiev Pas de Deux featured the wispy Cojocaru with Nehemiah Kish embodying sweet, innocent love. Forsythe’s Slingerland was done by two casts. Whelan, whose linear conformation yet velvety presentation brings out the best in modern ballet, performed with Liang; the elegant Aesha Ash paired well with City Ballet’s new principal, Gonzalo Garcia. Forsythe showed reverence for the classical language in a grand swooping tendu entrance, yet the dance looked like work; each arabesque was visibly pushed to the limit.
Liang’s new Vicissitude was danced by Kowroski and NYCB corps member Tyler Angle, endowed with an expressive torso and bold technique. At her service, he cradled her head, manually lowered her leg to the floor, and rarely diverted his attention from her. The novelty of Liv Lorent’s Propeller was spoiled by the intro film clip, featuring Nunn and Panchenko teetering in a seesaw balance. This, plus traces of Pilobolean physical dance (“lifts” by the head, or him headstanding on her belly), added some trick-laden texture to the program, as did the tongue-in-cheek Satie Stud, by Michael Clarke. It featured William Trevitt in a towel, straight-facing it through powerful, iconic poses recalling Greek godliness, or at least Ted Shawn. Wheeldon’s Dance of the Hours, created as part of the Met’s production of La Gioconda, was distinguished by its frilly costumes and hyper-classicalness; Ashley Bouder rendered the lead with clarity. When Wheeldon hires a full-time company on which dances are created, it will certainly be a different creature than this all-star pick up-team. The real work will then begin.
Tere O’Connor Dance
The Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, NY
September 26–October 7
Reviewed by Chris Dohse
In Rammed Earth, which played at the ramshackle, funky Chocolate Factory, Tere O’Connor used all the elements of a theatrical event with unusually fervid, fertile wit.
The term “rammed earth” describes an ancient architectural technique that pours a mixture of dirt, sand, and cement into a wooden frame, where it sometimes takes years to temper to a unique strength and simple ochre or gray beauty. This technique literally leaves no stone unturned in its gentle use of organic ingredients.
O’Connor similarly left no stone unturned, combining voluptuous dancing, music (composed by James Baker) that lurked through the evening as ominous and fragile as a cold-war horror movie, inventive lighting by Brian MacDevitt and Michael O’Connor, and costumes that looked like they’d been grabbed haphazard from the dancers’ own closets.
Witnesses were incorporated into the event as integral elements. We first took our seats on chairs strewn throughout the space at random facings. When the dancers began a rapid walking rhythm among us, the curious, amused, even alarmed faces of the people sitting within eyesight became a satisfying theatrical event of its own.
When we moved into more traditional rows at the dancers’ commands, the sometimes stale relationship between performer and consumer expanded and contracted like a fluid, filmic lens.
O’Connor’s movement language seemed more ethereal and yet physically demanding than in other recent work. He’s previously said that he aspires to create material from a child-like innocence, as if dancing in his bedroom alone with a body unburdened by learned technique. Of course his four outstanding dancers—Hilary Clark, Heather Olson, Christopher Williams, and Matthew Rogers—are all technically stellar.
The realness of their performances burned details into profound intimacy. Williams, for instance, sweats a lot. At one point he hovered, frozen in a rock-solid arabesque, the sweat dripping off his face to puddle at his feet. Rogers rushed past so close that I was brushed by his baby-powder scented breeze.
The quirks and on-a-dime shifts in intention—from ordinary, gestural material to extraordinarily demanding gymnastic physicality and almost prissy, playful balletic line from which O’Connor crafts his movement—seemed full of inscrutability at first. But the cast’s commitment and characterization became as ordinary and elegant as sand receding into waves.
Dominic Walsh Dance Theater’s Sleeping Beauty
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston, TX
October 18–20, 2007
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny
Choreographers can’t seem to let Sleeping Beauty sleep. Dominic Walsh is the newest kid on the block to have his way with the classic tale. After researching the origins of this fairy tale, Walsh fashioned his own version drawn from points of relevance to today’s world. The rebellion of adolescence, the transfer of family baggage in the form of a curse, and sexual awakening are key themes in Walsh’s not-a-bluebird-in-sight production.
This is Walsh’s most consistent and theatrical full-length ballet thus far and demonstrates a keen eye for visual style and a way with wit. If you are going to mess with a story that Disney and Petipa already cemented in our consciousness, you should at least have some fun, and Walsh’s dance is a blast. A story, albeit a different one, gets told using a smattering of mime, some choice moments of onstage talking, animated dancing of every genre, and clever scenic design.
This Beauty plays out like a graphic novel, except the violence is more of the psychological sort. Walsh sets his story in the 1980s with some futuristic touches. Aurora suffers from narcolepsy and prefers to hang with a tough crowd that turns her on to drugs and other nighttime naughtiness. So it follows that it’s not a spinning needle, but a hypodermic needle, that lands Aurora in the hospital with a drug-induced coma. Enter Desire (the prince), who awakens her with a kiss and one hot sexual fantasy. Walsh continues to Part Two of the tale with the birth of Aurora’s twins, Dawn and Jour, and her struggle with parenthood. Unfortunately, this section is too undeveloped to take hold.
The choreography mixes genres, staying true to the whimsical tone, with Walsh as Dr. Lyle Laq (as in Lilac Fairy) dancing like he’s still in a ballet, the ensemble dabbling with jazz and hip hop, and lots of typical-for-Walsh luxurious fluid movement.
Dawn Dippel’s Aurora plays up the comic angle as a teenager with a snooze disorder. Later on, when she meets Desire, her working-man prince, she bumps up the eroticism. Lindsey McGill and Marcello De Sa Martins’ witty performances as Aurora’s helicopter parents matched the cartoon style. Domenico Luciano’s noble performance as Desire gave a sweet nod to the classical ballet.
Jeremy Choate’s Houston skyline set looks like Gotham City, a suitable home for Walsh’s equally surreal treatment. Travis Halsey’s princess-meets-Prada costumes add texture, sleekness, and polish. A few production glitches made for rough edges to an otherwise daring redo.
Fairy tales are said to be a culture’s collective dreams, defying logic in the process. Amidst all the updating Walsh has done, he has stayed close to the core of this classic tale. Bruno Bettelheim would have been pleased.
Iguan Dance Theatre
From the lively experimental dance scene in St. Petersburg comes Iguan, a somewhat absurdist ensemble that mixes wiry, twisty movement and a literary bent with hilarious or confusing results. They present Displaced Persons, a piece about giving up their old cluttered Soviet life for the sanitary look of clean furniture. Also on the program is guest artist Oleg Soulimenko, another creator of the St. Petersburg scene, who now lives in Vienna. Long, tall, and slightly awkward, Soulimenko relishes the drollness of everyday tasks; his sly sense of humor subverts every expectation. This could be a delightfully anarchic evening. Jan. 24–26 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. See www.southerntheater.org.
KanKouran West African Dance Company has been performing at Dance Place annually since 1986, which for the past five years has honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The celebration continues on Jan. 19 and 20, when this drumming and dancing ensemble brings West Africa to the Washington, DC, mainstay. KanKouran (named after a spiritual guide of the Senegalese Mandingo tribe) sets athletic displays of traditional dance to the sounds of toe-tapping beats.
Born in Vietnam and trained in Paris, choreographer/performer Ea Sola creates critical contemporary works that are grounded in the history, music, and traditional culture of Vietnam. The Company Ea Sola makes its Los Angeles debut Jan. 25–26 with Drought and Rain Vol. 2. This evening-long multidisciplinary work is a reflection on the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of the next generation, and on current tensions between local and Western influences in modern-day Vietnam. The performance also features young dancers from Vietnam National Opera Ballet and live music composed by Nguyen Xuan Son. See www.uclalive.org.