Morphoses and the Rock Star, Or, Her Band and His Band

August 16, 2009

Sharing the stage with a singer as powerful as Martha Wainwright is a risk—and Christopher Wheeldon took it with mixed results. The first few dances didn’t hold a candle to the music, but by the end of the concert, it was worth it.

The first half alternated Wainwright singing alone and with dancers. Two of these pieces: Wheeldon’s “Far Away,” a solo for Rory Hohenstein; “Bleeding All Over You,” choreographed by Edwaard Liang, succumbed to a cuteness that’s more typical of So You Think You Can Dance than either Wheeldon or Liang. Hohenstein entered rolling his shoulders—sure, it went with the music better than the more balletic parts, but the music overpowered the dancer. Liang’s pieces seemed to try to match the country twang of the song, giving Teresa Reichlen some flirtatious moves, flanked by four men in vests vamping their hips, hairdresser style. Oy. Less obviously seductive was a Robert Louis Stevenson poem set to music by Vaughan Williams that was danced by Wendy Whelan and Edward Watson.

The one really satisfying choreography was Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise, which created a geometric, cool world—reminding me of his Evenfall (2006) where the tutus made great shapes, but here without the tutus. Joby Talbot’s music went from cool to endangering and the dance kept pace. I loved when a man and woman (I think it was Tiler Peck and Marcelo Gomes) pressed their palms together and circled their wrists—the tip of the iceberg of passion beneath the formal geometric shapes.

But what brought down the house was Wainwright’s heart-rending rendition of “Stormy Weather.” Wow! It was not only vocally intense, but physically she dug into her body to come out with a guttural, sexy despair. Can concert dance ever even come close to that?

Maybe not, but Tears of St. Lawrence, the world premiere, was just fine. Among the six couples in the opening, the lead couple was two men, and later there was a couple of two women. One of Wheeldon’s charms is that he is so cheerfully out gay (as alluded to in his banter with the rock star when they introduced this piece together), and this was one of the few times in his choreography that even hinted at a same sex relationships. That said, this idea, as all the ideas in Tears, may have been Edwaard Liang’s, since he co-choreographed the piece with Wheeldon. During this piece Martha Wainwright found a way to move through the dancers, slowing down and containing her power to not blot them out.

One of the treats of the evening was that Wheeldon got to introduce his dancers in the same manner that Wainwright introduced her band mates. I wish choreographers would do that all the time. We always wonder who’s who.

Martha Wainwright and Morphoses in “Tears of St. Lawrence,” © Laura Hanifin, 2009