The Wheeldon Company – Morphoses

Christopher Wheeldon – Choreography
György Ligeti – Music (Selections)
Holly Hynes – Costumes (courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Mark Stanley – Lighting
Christopher Wheeldon & Jason Fowler – Staging

Wendy Whelan & Tyler Angle
Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia
Beatriz Stix-Brunell & Craig Hall
Teresa Reichlen & Jason Fowler

Monotones II
Sir Frederick Ashton – Choreography & Costumes
Erik Satie – Music (Trois Gymnopédies)
Costumes courtesy of San Francisco Ballet
John B. Reed – Lighting
Lynn Wallis – Staging

Maria Kowroski
Rubinald Pronk
Edward Watson

Other Dances
Jerome Robbins – Choreography
Frédéric Chopin – Music (Selections)
Santo Loquasto – Costumes (Courtesy of the Royal Ballet)
Penny Jacobus – Lighting
Susan Hendl – Staging

Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia

Christopher Wheeldon – Choreography
Igor Stravinsky – Music (Pulcinella Suite)
Isabel Toledo – Costumes
Ruben Toledo – Scenery
Penny Jacobus – Lighting
Angela Kostrizky – Costume Assistant

Leanne Benjamin, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Céline Cassone, Drew Jacoby, Rory Hohenstein, Edwaard Liang, Rubinald Pronk, Edward Watson

Cameron Grant (piano) [Polyphonia]

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 24 September, 2008
Venue: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph: Linda NylindChristopher Wheeldon, poster-boy of modern ballet and for many the great hope for classical dance has returned with his ‘company’ to Sadler’s Wells for the second year. I say ‘company’ because it does not yet exist as such, but is more a collection of interested and generally interesting dancers who wish to work with Wheeldon from time to time. He has friends of the highest artistic pedigree, as evidenced by a veritable A-list of London dance and the arts at Wednesday’s opening performance, but also among performers, with NYCB stars Wendy Whelan and Maris Kowroski and Royal Ballet favourites Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin joining the line-up.

Wheeldon’s last essay into programming was unsuccessful – too many leotard ballets to interesting lighting and spiky music – so this year he has moved on, creating an attractive and satisfying evening on something of a shoestring. Polyphonia is still his best work, created for NYCB in 2001 and subsequesntly acquired by The Royal Ballet. A four-couple work, it successfully tackles a selction of Ligeti piano works.

Wendy Whelan (with Jock Soto) in Polyphonia. Photograph: Paul KolnikThe work itself is ever inventive and ever surprising, although the dancers, superb as they are (Wendy Whelan stood out in particular) looked under-rehearsed, and the synchronicity of movement was missing. It was a soft-focussed performance, with the razor sharpness which has charatcerised the work replaced by a certain vagueness of the arms and legs. Many startling effects, while certainly not going for nothing, made less impact than they have at Covent Garden, or indeed on the Wells stage when NYCB has presented the ballet. A case in point was the duet for two men (Craig Hall and Jason Fowler) which lacked the attack Edward Watson so memorably gave at the Opera House. That Watson was dancing that evening but not in this work gave extra cause for frustration; so too Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Craig Hall, with un-coordinated arms and a shaky musicality detracting from the overall effect.

Sir Frederick AshtonThe filling in the Wheeldon sandwich comprised two ‘old’ works: Frederick Ashton’s sublime Monotones II (1966) and Jerome Robbins’s perky Other Dances (1976). Wheeldon has stated that he wanted to see ‘Balanchine’ dancers dance Ashton in London, hence Maria Kowroski, but he added Rubinald Pronk, the Dutch dancer and the RB’s Edward Watson.

The result was rather a mish-mash. Where Sir Fred wanted seemless movement and unity of style, we received what could only be described as ‘fusion ballet’. The work is wonderful, begging the question why it and its companion Monotones I have been so long absent from the repertoire of our UK companies. But on this occasion it was compromised by that disparity of style and cruel, unatmospheric lighting. Set to orchestrations of Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies, it should be 10 minutes of other-worldly bliss: three white-clad dancers mysteriously moving in space, heavenly bodies indeed. Here it was somewhat more prosaic, but still wove its spell. Watson, as the English dancer, bends more instinctively than the other two; Pronk should look a little less terrified in order to inspire more confidence in us, the audience.

Gonzalo Garcia. Photograph: Kat WadeRobbins’ Other Dances is a show-piece duet originally for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov and very much in the vein of Dances at a Gathering – distinctly mittel or even ost-European, witty and charming. It is less successful than Dances simply because that is a bigger work and able to play with combinations of dancers; this is an extended, lyrical pas de deux. But it is a chance for two talented and sunny dancers to put themselves through their paces; Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia are two such and if their work together in pas de deux was strangely cool, they both shone in their solos, Garcia light and precise, with a happy stage personality and technique to spare, Peck utterly charming in her sweetness, beautiful balances and expressive arms and back. A delight.

Commedia is Wheeldon’s ‘looking back to the past to inspire the future’ and is set to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. I felt the music somewhat overwhelmed Wheeldon’s newest work, despite the latter’s evincing both intelligence and wit. With evocations of many a Pierrot ballet, Fokine’s Carnaval and even Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire, with a hint of Massine, it is more akin in style to John Cranko’s Card Game (also set to Stravinsky): a loosely linked set of divertissements hung on the hook of a central conceit – here the Commedia dell’ arte characters. It is packed with much of Wheeldon’s trademark moves – fussy hands, interesting arms, sculptural poses, and it allowed the impressive cast to dance full-out. It was especially good to see The Royal Ballet’s diminutive Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson together, and indeed they were given a lengthy pas de deux which had quirky and interesting moments, but which ultimately failed to respond choreographically to the theme and variations of Stravinsky’s score in their section. Nicely costumed and lit, it proved a cheery if ultimately not overly distinguished end to the first programme; it is scheduled to open the second.

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