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Taylor Gordon
Performance Reviews
New York City Center
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Morphoses Marks its 2nd New York Season

by Taylor Gordon
October 5, 2008
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019

Christopher Wheeldon has much to live up to. Hailed as perhaps the single most talented living ballet choreographer of our time, his move from New York City Ballet resident choreographer to independent artistic director of his troupe, Morphoses, drew great attention and expectation. In many ways, his company's second New York season at City Center proved him well.

From October 1-5, 2008 the company presented two programs of Wheeldon works and pieces from guest choreographers. The Sunday matinee of Program B opened with the director himself taking the spotlight. The dashing dancer introduced himself to the audience and expressed deep appreciation for continued support. He went on to explain the forthcoming pieces on the program, complete with anecdotal stories of past performances (in Vail, Rubinald Pronk fell ill and Drew Jacoby danced a 9 minute solo version of one pas de deux!). This act of curating the evening and leading the audience was very effective, making you wonder why more companies leave clunky program notes as the only verbal explanation of art?

Before the program commenced we were treated to an imaginative video of the company of stellar dancers in rehearsal. Close up images and effects of reflections streamed across the screen. In New York City Ballet's spring season audiences got a taste of video before live performance, but here the video is so artfully done it's almost more effective than the actual dancing.

Wheeldon's new work for this year opened the program. "Commedia" is a fun, quirky, and quick take on Pulcinella. The dancers appear in colorful capes and black masks, which soon reveal white unitards with black diamond shapes a la cirque clown XX. These rather unattractive costumes (complete with what look like bright do-rags at one point) and a backdrop of clown faces framing the stage set the tone.

With lots of sharp elbows, bent knees, and inverted hips, the dancers attack Wheeldon's choreography with a particular jauntiness. One section features two dancers passionately flipping through an aerobic pas de deux. In another part the young Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Leanne Benjamin mimic each other in knock-kneed, playful movements. They corkscrew their arms from fingertip to fingertip. While the dancers themselves are wildly strong (coming from top companies around the world), often Wheeldon seems to give them too much to say with their bodies in too little time. Quickness is a signature of style, but here clarity of movement is muddled.

Following this, another video clip plays, fading in on Stix-Brunell getting lunch in the school cafeteria. From sitting in class to making a perfect bun in the bathroom to fiercely rehearsing in a hot pink leotard, the artist's process is transparent and wonderfully alive. It continues to follow another ballerina from rehearsal to shopping at designer stores to reading in a coffee shop. It makes you eager to see more of behind the scenes, a craving Wheeldon is wisely nourishing.

The next live work is "One," a pas de deux for the leggy Pronk and Jacoby choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The stage is dark and the music quiet, with short bursts of French blurbs interfering. The intensity of the two draws you in. Each with admirable facility alone, they seem to feed off each other's energy and complement each other's staccato beats. This couple is a fabulous addition to the Morphoses group.

It's intriguing that with such a "hip" repertoire, Wheeldon chose to include a Frederick Ashton work on the program. Yet "Monotones II" is outstanding. In sparkling white, the trio of New York City Ballet dancers contrasts the darkness of "One" but shares the impact. Wendy Whelan begins lying in a split grasping her ankle, head to her knee. The two men lift her onto pointe and so begins a series of intertwining, rotating puzzles of limbs. Unlike Wheeldon's work, Ashton's choreography is slow, clean, and clear though the dancers.

Later on the program was Paul Lightfoot and Sol León's "Shutters Shut," a comical test of timing with twitchy movements that punctuate poetic words from Gertrude Stein. Wheeldon's 2007 work "Fools Paradise" concluded the successful season.
Morphoses 2008, Gonzalo Garcia & Craig Hall, FOOLS

Morphoses 2008, Gonzalo Garcia & Craig Hall, FOOLS

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano

MORPHOSES, ONE, Rubinald Pronk, Drew Jacoby, 2008

MORPHOSES, ONE, Rubinald Pronk, Drew Jacoby, 2008

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano

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