leonid17

Christopher Wheeldon & 'Morphoses'

120 posts in this topic

Assuming it's single, it's μόρφωσις (MOR-fos-ses, meaning form, the act of shaping etc in newer usage it may even mean education) Assuming it's plural (more likely), it's μορφώσεις (mor-FOS-ses, meaning forms, shapes etc)
Wow! The people involved with Ballet Talk know just about EVERYTHING, collectively at least !!! :D

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Among the dancers tentatively scheduled to participate in his first season are Wendy Whelan, Sébastien Marcovici, Maria Kowroski, Sofiane Sylve and Edwaard Liang from City Ballet, and Darcey Bussell, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg from the Royal Ballet, where Mr. Wheeldon has danced and choreographed.

“None of these dancers reflect the dancers that are necessarily going to be in the company when it’s formed in a more concrete way,” he said.

So he's premiering at Vail with a company of superstars whose commitments must preclude them becoming fulltime company members for him... which is why assumedly they don't reflect the dancers he'll be forming the company out of... But with dancers of that calliber lining up to tempt him, will he find a muse among his own dancers? And if not, if guest superstars are frequently to be featured, seems he might as well have stayed a resident choreographer? I'm still trying to figure out the dynamics of this one.

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That was the part that stood out for me, too, and I'm not sure I know what it means. But it does remind me of the close working group around Kenneth Macmillan described by Lynn Seymour in her autobiography. In the early years it included her and other dancers or designers for the Royal's touring company, I really forget the details. It is at least refreshing to expect the dancers to contribute to the content of his work, as opposed to the infantilization that often takes place.

In the meantime he is creating a one act ballet for the Bolshoi based on Hamlet with Tsiskiridze, Lunkina, Alexandrova and Klevtsov to music from Arvo Paart's 3rd Symphony which will be seen in London in the summer.

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I'm still trying to figure out the dynamics of this one.

You and me both!

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There was a lengthy article in the NY Times about Wheeldon's new venture.

He intends NOT to do story ballet, but new works with classical choreography drawing from talent from around the world. He intends to do a 34 week performance season and is presently focused on getting funds together to launch the company.

Martins and McKensie were mentioned saying that there is always more room for more good dance and they seemed to welcome the "competition" and Wheeldon's move to carve out a new niche for clasical ballet.

Sounds like it might be interesting and I am looking forward to seeing what he comes up with. Wheeldon says he is not trying to be a new/next Balanchine... obviously rather big shoes for anyone to fill.

Good on him at 33yrs old. The proof of the pudding will be in the tasting

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There are a lot of intentions there. Now he needs the money.

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There are a lot of intentions there. Now he needs the money.

Robert Weiss is quoted in today's NYT article as saying that there tends to be a lot of money and enthusiasm at the start - but things become more difficult over the long haul. I imagine that will be true even for someone commanding as much attention as Wheeldon.

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There are a lot of intentions there. Now he needs the money.

Robert Weiss is quoted in today's NYT article as saying that there tends to be a lot of money and enthusiasm at the start - but things become more difficult over the long haul. I imagine that will be true even for someone commanding as much attention as Wheeldon.

Yet more on Mr. Wheeldon in yesterdays UK Guardian newspaper:

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/feature/0,,1985101,00.html

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Like many people in the dance world, I've been mulling this over since the official announcement last week, and I'm still grappling with what I think this might lead to. The previous comment (that Wheeldon, along with other ballet colleagues in his generation, seem to be using the traditional modern dance company as a model for their own independent ensembles) seems to have a great deal of truth and the choice will, I think, have a significant influence on his development as a dancemaker over the next several years. The kind of work that he will best be able to make inside this structure is chamber theater in size and scope -- the internal references will be between individuals and little groups -- the architecture of the space will live most clearly on a smaller scale. Part of what classical ballet has been able to do is illustrate geometry in space using large groups of people. I'm not sure that Wheeldon has been especially interested in that aspect of the art form (even his Swan Lake uses a relatively small group of swans) but he certainly won't have that as an easy choice in this new venture.

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I'm not sure that Wheeldon has been especially interested in that aspect of the art form (even his Swan Lake uses a relatively small group of swans) but he certainly won't have that as an easy choice in this new venture.

Regarding this detail, I'd have to disagree. I think that spatial geometry is Wheeldon's strength as a choreographer. He's shown a gift for it from Mercurial Maneouvres on; Evenfall is another example. Working with the geometry of the corps is the main way Wheeldon approaches classical choreography. Even the Swan Lake you mention, though it doesn't have a massive corps (it couldn't at Penna Ballet) shows a constant experimentation with formations and space - sometimes to the detriment of the story itself.

This doesn't affect the rest of your argument, of course - it's just a detail.

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Thanks, leonid, for the article from the Guardian. It makes Wheeldon seem like an attractively thoughtful artist and an extraordinarily wide range of interests, ideas and plans.

The scope of his ambitions is striking. New bits and pieces seem to be revealed each day.

-- New work, "most ... on pointe."

-- Revivals, including McMillen's Las Hermanas and Van Manen chamber pieces.

-- Commissions from other contemporary choreographers.

-- Collaborations with Bjork !!!

-- A tie-in with City Center and Sadler's Wells.

If even a fraction of this actually works out, it should be impressive.

I was especially touched by this insight into the creative process as experienced by Wheeldon:

One of the problems for Wheeldon at NYCB has been the enormous shadow of George Balanchine, the company's founder: "Everyone there is still completely under his spell. Even though I've never seen my feet filling those giant footprints, there were always expectations that I should try." The other problem has been creative loneliness, although it was only when Wheeldon was back at the Royal working on DGV, with Wayne McGregor in the next studio, that he grasped how much more fun he should be having. The competition was fierce between the two but also fantastically enjoyable: "There was a really charged energy in the building that both Wayne and I fed off."

Interesting, too, is his comment that Monica Mason has been supportive at the London end. There is no parallel mention of support from anyone at Wheeldon's former NYC base.

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OT...

As an architect I see ballet very much related to architecture... space, form, symmetries and experienced in time... In that sense, some of the larger productions evoke grand buildings. All the steps and so forth are almost like the classical elements of style... you see them repeated in great buildings and great classical ballet choreography.

So smaller productions might be "less" architectural... just a thought

To me opera performance lack this sort of form and space making experience of classical ballet.

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I'm going to hell for this one (again) but I can't help noticing as time goes by:

At an NYCB talk Jock Soto told a story about the impetus for Polyphonia. He had been pushing Wheeldon to move away from classical vocabulary for a while.

Per the NYT Wheeldon gets the idea to have a company after having a beer with William Forsythe.

Per the Guardian he sees Wayne MacGregor in the other room and it dawns on him that he should be enjoying the process.

Obviously, these are selectively chosen examples - I doubt he's that "other-directed". Still, I've felt this in his choreography as well, which feels (with the exception of After the Rain) more and more like he is either holding back on his own thoughts, or is presenting us with what he thinks we want to hear. And this has become moreso with time, rather than less as is usually the case with artists who develop their voice with experience. What does Christopher Wheeldon actually want - or have to say?

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To me opera performance lack this sort of form and space making experience of classical ballet.

I can see your point. Unfortunately an awful lot of opera singers, particularly chorus members, don't move very well so forming changing patterns of figures tend to be less than crisply formed. (forget about complex movement)

On the other hand, opera singers... sing.....so there is that whole element added to the mix

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This would make a great general discussion (and feel free to start it, or I'll do so if we continue the topic) Bessie Schonberg, who taught at Dance Theater Workshop, said that "choreography begins at the trio" for similar reasons. Geometrically a solo might be compared to a point, a duet to a line, and a trio starts making designs on the stage. She was simplifying something that has exceptions, but it's a good point.

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My post was mostly a reference to large ballet format as opposed to smaller ones and how it reminds me of architecture.

Though I love opera.. it is never architectural and formal (for me), though some stagings (at the Met) have literal architecture in them.

I suppose that is one of the interesting aspects of classical ballet to me, a complete novice, uneducated lout that I am... it's use of formalism (what I call it) to carve out form, space and so forth in time on a stage. Ballet resembles moving architecture or living sculpture... opera does not.

So for me new choreography, is like experiencing new (classical) buildings and the element of scale applies. So I look forward to creative people using classical language to create the experiences which are so precious and fleeting in a ballet performance...

This is another precious aspect of the ballet... and all performances... they pass by like a river... the same but always unique. Rant over

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This would make a great general discussion (and feel free to start it, or I'll do so if we continue the topic) Bessie Schonberg, who taught at Dance Theater Workshop, said that "choreography begins at the trio" for similar reasons. Geometrically a solo might be compared to a point, a duet to a line, and a trio starts making designs on the stage. She was simplifying something that has exceptions, but it's a good point.

Bessie was, as you well know, an extremely smart woman about dancemaking.

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I'm not sure that Wheeldon has been especially interested in that aspect of the art form (even his Swan Lake uses a relatively small group of swans) but he certainly won't have that as an easy choice in this new venture.

Regarding this detail, I'd have to disagree. I think that spatial geometry is Wheeldon's strength as a choreographer. He's shown a gift for it from Mercurial Maneouvres on; Evenfall is another example. Working with the geometry of the corps is the main way Wheeldon approaches classical choreography. Even the Swan Lake you mention, though it doesn't have a massive corps (it couldn't at Penna Ballet) shows a constant experimentation with formations and space - sometimes to the detriment of the story itself.

This doesn't affect the rest of your argument, of course - it's just a detail.

You've certainly seen more of his work than I have, but this actually clarifies for me what I think I was trying to say -- is he, in this new situation, going to have the resources to work with the geometry, or is it going to be even smaller groups? Thanks again for helping iron out my wonky thought processes.

(I know that Pennsylvania Ballet doesn't have a huge roster, and although there were things about Wheeldon's Swan Lake there that made my forehead wrinkle, his use of the ensemble wasn't one of them.)

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Interesting point, and I agree. Bringing in other choreographers, something I don't like about Cranko's Onegin is that it's a series of pas de deux with the corps for decor rather than meaning. Contrast that with Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream which uses the corps dances in Act II to reinforce its point. Wheeldon knows how to use and especially move a corps de ballet; but what does the corps de ballet mean to him - are we on the same wavelength here?

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Re Wheeldon and the corps: I gather I was one of the few people whose response to Evenfall was entirely positive. Yeah, there was kind of a hole a the center where the male principal should have been, but I found the corps so engaging and affecting that I just didn’t care. It even occurred to me that the hole in the center might have been the point. In any event, I left the theatre wishing that Wheeldon would take a crack at something along the lines of Le Tombeau de Couperin, which is one of my very favorite ballets. (Martins’ crack at it in Friandises – make that two cracks – didn’t really work for me, which was a shame because the dancers in the cast I saw were clearly giving it their all.) Lately, I’ve found that Wheeldon’s work for groups of dancers is more expressive and emotionally immediate than his work for soloists or couples – After the Rain and Quaternary being the exceptions. Let me hasten to add that I don’t think emotional immediateness is a necessarily a requirement of a good ballet. It just struck me that Wheeldon’s choreography for couples placed in the context of a corps is somehow more “effaced” than the choreography for the corps itself or for couples dancing alone. An American in Paris is another example – I can barely remember the central couple (which is a genuine issue in that case, I think).

I loved the look of Evenfall, by the way – it reminded me of one of those fabulous deco ocean liners or grand hotels that feature in early Fred Astaire movies.

Anyway, I'm interested to see what Wheeldon gets up to in his new venture. I just wish it were in a venue other than City Center. I don't think I've ever had a clear view of the stage there, even in the allegedly good seats. I long for a NYC dance and opera venue akin to the Juilliard Theater, and I promise to build one if I win Lotto.

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Wheeldon knows how to use and especially move a corps de ballet; but what does the corps de ballet mean to him - are we on the same wavelength here?

I think we are, and it's an interesting question you've asked. I've had several conversations recently, about different groups and dances, that have all boiled down to the same element -- what does a group do in a dance? What is the significance of an ensemble, what can they tell us and how do they 'read' (how do we know what they're saying?)? This may not be the venue for this conversation, but I've been mulling it over lately, and the news of Wheeldon's new project just got sucked right in.

Some people think that the big leap of faith for ballet makers is the convention of the classical vocabulary and the artificial nature of the pointe shoe, but I think that there's an argument to be made for the uses of the ensemble. There are certainly examples of large group dances in every genre, but I think there is something particular about a corps de ballet that makes it very specific, and is central to our understanding of classicism and its manifestation in ballet.

Or, to make this very short, what is it about the Kingdom of the Shades that makes me weep before Nikiya takes a step?

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Interesting, too, is his comment that Monica Mason has been supportive at the London end. There is no parallel mention of support from anyone at Wheeldon's former NYC base.

I don't read much into this--the article is in a British paper while according to the NY Times on January 4th "[Wheeldon] said Mr. Martins gave his blessing" while the Times doesn't quote him discussing Monica Mason's support.

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What is the significance of an ensemble, what can they tell us and how do they 'read' (how do we know what they're saying?)? ... Some people think that the big leap of faith for ballet makers is the convention of the classical vocabulary and the artificial nature of the pointe shoe, but I think that there's an argument to be made for the uses of the ensemble. There are certainly examples of large group dances in every genre, but I think there is something particular about a corps de ballet that makes it very specific, and is central to our understanding of classicism and its manifestation in ballet.

Sandik,

By “ensemble” do you mean a group of anonymous dancers (what I think of as a ballet corps proper) or groups of dancers generally, including an ensemble made up of dancers who may have been presented to us as soloists or couples elsewhere in the ballet or an ensemble that is somehow clearly a community of individuals? Thinking outside of ballet for a moment, Mark Morris has done all three. I agree that an individual or a couple set against an anonymous corps definitely “reads” like a ballet, even in another genre (Morris’ Dido and Aeneas being a case in point) but I can’t put my finger just yet on why that is. Something to do with hierarchy, perhaps?

It is indeed a very interesting question!

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[

By “ensemble” do you mean a group of anonymous dancers (what I think of as a ballet corps proper) or groups of dancers generally, including an ensemble made up of dancers who may have been presented to us as soloists or couples elsewhere in the ballet or an ensemble that is somehow clearly a community of individuals? Thinking outside of ballet for a moment, Mark Morris has done all three. I agree that an individual or a couple set against an anonymous corps definitely “reads” like a ballet, even in another genre (Morris’ Dido and Aeneas being a case in point) but I can’t put my finger just yet on why that is. Something to do with hierarchy, perhaps?

It is indeed a very interesting question!

If the names so far mentioned as potentially joining Morphoses are true, it will be a chamber company of high profile dancers. When they are together they might be called an ensemble, but each it would seem will have other companies to go back to.

Given that the dancers mentioned come from a classical and neo-classical background, it would seem that they wish to develop other aspects of dance which their current casting does not enable them to explore as widely as they would wish. Why else would they take leave from their safe haven? Are we moving into an era of dancer power as opposed to company power?

What it will do, is to allow the dancers so called 'parent' company to give opportunities to develop young dancers in the major roles whilst their senior colleagues are absent.

I see potential conflicts in commitment, as major companies will want to take their 'stars' on foreign tours and so the relationship between dancers, Christopher Wheeldon and major companies would have to be finely tuned to avoid conflict. I am sure this has been taken this into consideration and I doubt that 'press releases' of such a full nature would not have been given out, if discussions/negotiations between interested parties had not taken place.

Many of the RB senior dancers will already have commitments to ‘guest star’ in the next few years. Surely contracts will change and perhaps dancer’s status as full company members of the RB and NYCB will also? Financial rewards will also undoubtedly change.

Personally I am concerned about the impact these will have on the classical ballet repertoire of the Royal Ballet if they are not always given with casts of a quality that audiences paying high prices are entitled to expect.

I had hoped that Christopher Wheeldon would have developed into a major classical/neo-classical choreographer and perhaps this may still happen as he does after all have an appetite for hard work.

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Given that the dancers mentioned come from a classical and neo-classical background, it would seem that they wish to develop other aspects of dance which their current casting does not enable them to explore as widely as they would wish. Why else would they take leave from their safe haven? Are we moving into an era of dancer power as opposed to company power?

It's very exciting for any dancer to have a talented choreographer create choreography on them. That doesn't necessarily mean the stars are wishing for different movement vocabulary, like say something from the modern dance world. Is that what you meant?

I wonder how often a year the typical principal gets brand new choreography to perform.

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