Wondering About Wheeldon’s Morphoses

October 14, 2007

As the anticipation builds up toward the NYC debut of Christopher Wheeldon’s new company at City Center this week, The Guggenheim’s Works & Process series invited him to show and tell last night (and tonight).

    He just keeps making beautiful stuff, particularly duets. What is amazing to me is that his dances are infused with emotion even though they are basically abstract. One reason is that he asks his dancers to move so deep in the body. In this public “rehearsal,” he told a dancer to “roll through your back”—not something you hear often from a ballet choreographer. A second reason is that he slips in small intimate gestures, like placing a hand on a partner’s cheek, in between the big body shapes and leg extensions.

    In this rehearsal for the public, he worked with the Bolshoi dancer Anastasia Yatsenko, who is part of his current pick-up company. As Bolshoi dancers do, she gushed extravagantly with every move. It was fun to see him tell her she was “too expressive” in her upper body and had to tone it down, e.g. look straight ahead instead of effusing upward. In an aside to the audience, he admitted that he’d rather have a dancer who tends to be too expressive than not expressive enough.

    This evening at the Guggenheim was an opportunity to see how some of Wheeldon’s dances seep into others. The opening of Mesmerics calls to mind the opening of Liturgy, with two dancers or more signaling with their arms, as if stretching their bodies to make urgent semaphores. Another familiar Wheeldonism is when it seems like one body is folding into another with only antennae reaching out.

    Watching his partnering is mesmerizing because you become hyper aware of the choices he is making moment to moment. Gestures of great simplicity are sprinkled through highly complex, knotted partnering. And always, the visual shapes are striking. You feel like you never saw a leg emerge from a curved body in exactly that way before.

    My only worry as to the success of his budding company (called Morphoses The Wheeldon Company) is the programming. When he came to Columbia University’s Miller Theater two years ago, he showed his tryptic of Ligeti pieces. They are all beautiful, but somehow it was too much of the same kind of beautiful. And even last night, the only non-Wheeldon piece he showed was a Forsythe piece (an excerpt from Slingerland), which is in the same aesthetic family as Wheeldon. I am hoping that Chris and Lourdes Lopez (his executive director) can give more variety to the programming at City Center. Maybe he needs to throw at least one of his own narrative ballets into the mix. I’ll let you know when I see the full (two) programs later this week.