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By Susan Yung
Joyce Theater, NYC
October 26–30, 2011
Performance reviewed: Oct. 27
The Morphoses of 2011, which premiered its commission of Luca Veggetti’s Bacchae last week, little resembles the paradigm that Christopher Wheeldon had envisioned in 2007 upon its launch. Then, it felt like a promising new development in ballet to feature Wheeldon’s work alongside that of other select choreographers, including Michael Clark and William Forsythe that first season. But Wheeldon departed last year, and director and co-founder Lourdes Lopez retrenched, deciding to hire a different “artistic director” each year in this altered artistic model. (Next up is Pontus Lidberg collaborating with the ubiquitous composer David Lang.)
The first production of the revamped troupe is a full-length ballet based on Euripides’ tragedy. By choosing it, Veggetti predicated a ponderous evening—although that never stopped Martha Graham. But surely having various dancers standing mid-aisle, intoning phrases into mics at points throughout the work, did not help the self-seriousness, nor the opening-scene dancer who transformed into a puppet (operated by Candice Burridge) or the tense, fluttery flute passages by Paolo Aralla, played by Erin Lesser, at times at the edge of the floating midstage “raft.” This dais, and the seamless fabric walls which dancers crawled beneath to enter or exit, were designed by Veggetti. His often beautiful movement, habitually done sock-footed, takes its essential lines and cues from ballet, but he softens it with a sinuous arm, a bent knee, or a slide into a stop. The dancers crouch like spiders, or cats preparing to pounce, soaring in barrel leaps or whipping their legs in fan kicks. But the story gets lost in the abstraction, leaving only remnants of the emotions in play.
The muscular Adrian Danchig-Waring, a New York City Ballet soloist, epitomizes the style with his daring, full-out execution. Frances Chiaverini, who danced with Karole Armitage, is a fair match, with her powerful presence and long limbs, and Gabrielle Lamb moved with aggressive conviction. Other dancers are familiar from companies such as Alvin Ailey. All 11 are compelling in various ways.
The new Morphoses aspires to make its mark through cross-disciplinary collaborations and livestreaming to nearby cafes. But it doesn’t feel all that different from other companies performing a prevailing kind of contemporary ballet, mostly from Europe—fractured lines, performed in socks or slippers, in the wake of Forsythe. (Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which frequently commissions European choreographers, comes to mind.) It’s annoyingly redundant to say, but a stellar troupe featuring Wheeldon’s choreography would’ve been more noteworthy.
Photo: Frances Chiaverini in Veggetti's Bacchae. By Kyle Froman, courtesy Morphoses.