New York City Ballet: Wheeldon’s “Les Carillons”

January 31, 2012

Koch Theater

Lincoln Center, NYC
January 28, 2012

Christopher Wheeldon’s Les Carillons met and at times surpassed many expectations as the sole world premiere in New York City Ballet’s winter season, on the company’s first all-Wheeldon program. The dance showed Wheeldon’s flair for structural invention, dynamic and emotional range, and musical wit.

In the first movement, the cast of 20 is introduced in overlapping waves of dancers, eventually splicing together smaller circles to make one large roundel, as in a folk dance. Throughout the ballet, groups shepherded on and off the featured dancers in a seemingly serendipitous, buoyant promenade. Bizet’s familiar music, L’Arlésienne Suites Nos. 1 & 2, set a lively, varied palette for this star-studded cast, which included nine principal dancers. It was not unlike experiencing the course of a day, with highlights linked by quotidien scenes, and where dance and music are the sole means of expression. Jean-Marc Puissant created the washy backdrop, which contrasted with the womens’ gem-hued, diagonally sliced dresses and the mens’ chocolate one-sleeved outfits designed by Mark Zappone.

The women were given the most memorable sections, either solo or partnered by one or more men. We were treated to Wendy Whelan’s transcendent, floating presence—more spirit than flesh—juxtaposed with Sara Mearns’ lustily earthbound passion and remarkably grounded technique, next to Tiler Peck’s lighthearted gambol, as she insouciantly pivoted her feet on pointe. Maria Kowroski was paired with Tyler Angle, one of the current reigning cavaliers and her frequent partner; they work together beautifully, a combination of impeccable line and consummate elegance. His growing strength and confidence as one of the company’s best partners was evident in numerous difficult lifts, done flawlessly.

Wheeldon set loose many playful ideas and structures, ceaselessly moving dancers on and offstage, evoking the nonstop flow of life and the joy that continually emerges. He excels at adding twists to simple moves—hands spiraling upward like fast-motion ivy; a kicked foot punctuating an odd cat-like yoga pose or upright stance; a leg extended forward, subtly circling to the back. The men partnered one another in explosive jumps; kneeled and punched their fists as they drew forward; or mimed drawing back an arrow—strong but not boastful. The rousing end felt as much hoe-down as ballet, the final tableaux formed by the dancers in a semicircle, arrayed like rays of the sun.

Joining the premiere were Polyphonia, a primer on Wheeldon’s serene geometric calculations (and during which, unfortunately, Jennie Somogyi injured an Achilles), and Danse à Grande Vitesse, a frenetic study of motion and speed somewhat fixated on its theme.



Photos by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB. Christopher Wheeldon’s Les Carillons. Dancers at top: Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia.