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Wheeldon Leaves His Own Dance Company


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#1 abatt

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 12:34 PM

Christopher Wheeldon Leaves Dance Company He Created

From Today's NY Times:

http://artsbeat.blog...any-he-created/

By DANIEL J. WAKIN AND ALASTAIR MACAULAY

Allison V. Smith for The New York Times

Christopher WheeldonThe choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, three years after forming the Morphoses company to much excitement in the dance world, is walking away from the ensemble amid apparent friction with his executive director.

In an interview Sunday evening, Mr. Wheeldon said there was not enough of a cadre of full-time dancers to work with.

“If I have to consider a new crop of dancers for each tour, then the conditions aren’t much different from what I have elsewhere as a freelance choreographer,” Mr. Wheeldon said.

“As a freelancer, you fly in, you choose your dancers, you make a ballet, you fly out, then you do it all over again with a different company. The beauty of having a permanent company is to have dancers who know just how you like them to move, the way you want them to cut shapes in space, the way you ask them to respond to music.”



#2 Dale

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 01:49 PM

This is very interesting. I can certainly understand Wheeldon needing to take commissions to make a living. Other choreographers with their own companies did the same. Balanchine, in the 40s when Ballet Society/NYCB was just getting off the ground, did outside projects. I believe I read in one of his bios that his work in Hollywood and Broadway during that time allowed him to take just a small salary from NYCB. However, there could have been a line crossed in this case between taking commissions to keep Morphoses going and bailing on a fledgling group during tough financial times.

#3 abatt

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 02:19 PM

I think it was in bad taste for Lourdes Lopez to complain in the press that Wheeldon didn't commit himself sufficiently to the company. If you notice, Wheeldon does not level any criticisms specifically at Lopez, but focused his comments, diplomatically, on his frustrations regarding not having a regular cadre of dancers in the company. I'm puzzled regarding how Lopez thinks Morphoses can continue without Chris. All of the major corporate support that was showered upon Morphoses was due to the talents and presence of Chris as Artisitic Director. Even if Chris no longer owns the rights to the ballets he created for Morphoses (I have no idea who may hold the copyrights to those ballets), all of the dancers who appeared with the company were loyal to Chris. Does she reallly think any major talents will be on board with the company if Chris is no longer affiliated with the enterprise?

#4 Dale

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 02:25 PM

abatt, I agree. Basically, Wheeldon was Morphoses.

Playing Devil's Advocate, other small groups don't have a "regular" roster too. I'm thinking of the Suzanne Farrell Company. Yes, she has the Kennedy Center behind her, but Wheeldon has relationships with City Center and Sadler Wells. Farrell has taken the long view in this, making do with what she has. It could seem as if Wheeldon didn't want to do that. But again, on the other hand, he IS the choreographer - the talent - so he could start up again at a later time. Something further is afoot.

#5 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 04:26 PM

There is a slightly different article in the Times, Arts Beat where there seems to be a little squabble erupting. On reading it I immediately pictured the White Cat and Puss in Boots.

The headline is "Wheeldon Says Morphoses Scheduling Prompted His Departure."

I too fear that it won't be possible to keep the motor running for the company without the ignition spark. I am so fond of Lourdes that I hate to say it. But he was the "name."

#6 rg

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 05:02 PM

if it's cricket to cut'n'paste here's what i cut (and am pasting). if this is not allowable feel free to take it down:

February 23, 2010
Wheeldon Quits Dance Troupe He Created
By DANIEL J. WAKIN and ALASTAIR MACAULAY
Three years after forming the Morphoses company to much excitement in the dance world, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is walking away from the ensemble amid apparent friction with his executive director.

In an interview Sunday evening Mr. Wheeldon said there was not enough of a cadre of full-time dancers to work with.

“If I have to consider a new crop of dancers for each tour, then the conditions aren’t much different from what I have elsewhere as a freelance choreographer,” Mr. Wheeldon said. “As a freelancer you fly in, you choose your dancers, you make a ballet, you fly out, then you do it all over again with a different company. The beauty of having a permanent company is to have dancers who know just how you like them to move, the way you want them to cut shapes in space, the way you ask them to respond to music.”

Mr. Wheeldon, 36, told the company — formally known as Morphoses/The Christopher Wheeldon Company — of his decision on Feb. 11 but kept it secret until Sunday. He held the title of artistic director.

The company’s executive director, Lourdes Lopez, a former principal dancer at New York City Ballet who danced for George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, said on Monday that Mr. Wheeldon did not give enough time to his company.

“For the rest of 2010 he could give us 10 weeks of his schedule,” she said. “He’s busy making works elsewhere, and I need him to commit himself more fully. I couldn’t book the venues while our artistic director was committed elsewhere.”

She said she planned to continue the company’s work, including performances of Mr. Wheeldon’s own choreography.

“Christopher was very generous: over three years we presented 33 ballets, 15 by him,” she said. “He loved bringing in other artists — choreographers, fashion designers, lighting designers. I loved that too, and I believe it can continue without him.” But Mr. Wheeldon’s name will be dropped as the ensemble’s subtitle.

Later Monday, Mr. Wheeldon disputed Ms. Lopez’s version of events, saying in an e-mail relayed by a publicist that neither she nor the board asked him to give more time to the company. “She only brought it up as a problem after I decided to leave,” he said, also contending that he had made himself available for 17 weeks, not 10, but that the company lacked bookings for some of the weeks he was free.

Mr. Wheeldon also said that Ms. Lopez canceled performance dates in Washington and Paris, and that the cancellation in Paris “precipitated my immediate departure as artistic director having made it very clear that I had planned to honor all engagements through the end of 2010,” when he would have resigned as artistic director anyway.

The company was formed in 2007 to high hopes among dance fans, given Mr. Wheeldon’s status as one of the world’s leading young choreographers. At the time he was resident choreographer at New York City Ballet. But there were questions from the start about whether it could raise enough money to survive.

“In March 2007 we didn’t have a dollar,” Ms. Lopez said. “We didn’t have a bank account. By December 2009, like it or not, we’d had successes, commissions, new audiences, tours, with $1.3 million in the bank. We’d netted $545,000 in 2009.”

She said the company had the resources to offer salaries and benefits to 8 to 10 dancers.

Mr. Wheeldon said that five or six dancers signed on as permanent members, but that there were not enough performers for tours. “It was frustrating, taking on different dancers for each tour,” he said.

The company originally announced a three-year plan, with annual seasons booked at the Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado, Sadler’s Wells Theater in London and City Center in New York. Its 2009-10 season included even more touring, in Australia, California and Canada.

“Morphoses is a treasure trove,” Mr. Wheeldon said. “I never wanted the company to be for my work only.”

In the interview he spoke of the successes and satisfactions of the company’s brief run. He recalled a period last summer when he and the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky were both rehearsing on Martha’s Vineyard. “Normally you never have the chance to spend time with another choreographer, but when he came to Martha’s Vineyard, we could,” Mr. Wheeldon said.

“One night after a City Center performance, when we’d performed his ‘Bolero,’ we went out for a drink. He told me ‘I think your ‘Fool’s Paradise’ is a masterpiece — you should be very proud — but to be honest I’m not so keen on your ‘Commedia.’ ” I love that frankness and that exchange.”

Mr. Wheeldon pointed out that 8,000 people came to two open-air performances in Central Park with the singer Martha Wainwright, also last summer. Many of those people also attended the sold-out fall season at City Center, he said.

Yet the history of dance is replete with choreographers who tried and failed to form companies, something Mr. Wheeldon said he is well aware of.

He will continue to be busy despite the end of his involvement with Morphoses. This week he starts work in London on his first full-length commission, a two-act “Alice in Wonderland” for the Royal Ballet, with a new score by Joby Talbot. It will have its premiere in February 2011. San Francisco Ballet gave the world premiere of his “Ghosts” this month. New York City Ballet presents the world premiere of his next ballet on May 29.

And what of Morphoses? Mr. Wheeldon’s withdrawal leaves a question mark over the company’s ability to continue to attract audiences and donors.

#7 carbro

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 05:09 PM

Following ViolinConcerto's link (which I repaired):

:devil: Okay, we now have the He-Said/She-Said drama going.

“She only brought it up as a problem after I decided to leave,” he said, also contending that he had made himself available for 17 weeks, not 10, but that the company lacked bookings for some of the weeks he was free.



#8 kfw

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 05:22 PM

Playing Devil's Advocate, other small groups don't have a "regular" roster too. I'm thinking of the Suzanne Farrell Company. Yes, she has the Kennedy Center behind her, but Wheeldon has relationships with City Center and Sadler Wells. Farrell has taken the long view in this, making do with what she has.

Farrell is fortunate to have a regular company now.

#9 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 05:36 PM

Nothing Wheeldon did for Morphoses really looked any different than what he did for other companies. None of Morphoses' non-Wheeldon rep really looked any different than what was being made elsewhere: "Softly as I Leave You" didn't need Morphoses to happen, for example. Morphoses' gesamtkunstwerk aspirations were tepidly realized at best. So what was the point?

Perhaps having "a cadre of full time dancers to work with ... who know just how you like them to move, the way you want them to cut shapes in space, the way you ask them to respond to music" would have resulted in something startlingly new, but I'm starting to wonder.

Lopez is quoted as saying she has the resources to hire 8-10 dancers; Wheeldon says that isn't enough. Is this a reasonable objection?

#10 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 06:41 PM

It's very interesting how the Times article changed from 3 p.m. (abatt's post) to 8 p.m. (rg's post). At one point, before I posted the link, I had THREE different versions open -- all of which were incorporated into the version that rg posted.

He said. She said.

Regardless, I think that this is going to have many ramifications, and will be a turning point (ha!) for many people and several companies in the contemporary ballet world.

Stay tuned.

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 08:16 PM

I'd like to see him with a 10 year contract as artistic director of a stable medium sized company... (one that doesn't include a huge institution he has to keep happy)... but where could that be? Balanchine wasn't stuck doing Giselle & Sleeping Beauty & La Sylphide & etc.... (even if he did love Sleeping Beauty)... ...but then again, Balanchine had a school...


8-10 dancers would be enough for a modern dance company... and how many did Joffrey start with?

#12 miliosr

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 04:49 AM

Nothing Wheeldon did for Morphoses really looked any different than what he did for other companies. None of Morphoses' non-Wheeldon rep really looked any different than what was being made elsewhere: "Softly as I Leave You" didn't need Morphoses to happen, for example. Morphoses' gesamtkunstwerk aspirations were tepidly realized at best. So what was the point?


ITA w/ this.

I never grasped what the point of Morphoses was -- what need was it filling that wasn't being filled elsewhere? Morphoses wasn't the exclusive destination point for Wheeldon's work (he was still working in every place under the sun) and I often got the impression he was saving his best efforts for his important commissions. The non-Wheeldon works were drearily similar to one another (in the worst contemporary way) and coated the Morphoses programs in a glaze of sameness. What cache the company did have came from the leading lights of City Ballet and the Royal and, once they decamped, Morphoses became a lot less glamorous. At the end of the day, I don't know that the basic concept and its subsequent execution were substantial enough to keep the company going. (I don't see how Morphoses survives without Wheeldon.)

#13 Ray

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 05:36 AM

Nothing Wheeldon did for Morphoses really looked any different than what he did for other companies. None of Morphoses' non-Wheeldon rep really looked any different than what was being made elsewhere: "Softly as I Leave You" didn't need Morphoses to happen, for example. Morphoses' gesamtkunstwerk aspirations were tepidly realized at best. So what was the point?


ITA w/ this.

I never grasped what the point of Morphoses was -- what need was it filling that wasn't being filled elsewhere? Morphoses wasn't the exclusive destination point for Wheeldon's work (he was still working in every place under the sun) and I often got the impression he was saving his best efforts for his important commissions. The non-Wheeldon works were drearily similar to one another (in the worst contemporary way) and coated the Morphoses programs in a glaze of sameness. What cache the company did have came from the leading lights of City Ballet and the Royal and, once they decamped, Morphoses became a lot less glamorous. At the end of the day, I don't know that the basic concept and its subsequent execution were substantial enough to keep the company going. (I don't see how Morphoses survives without Wheeldon.)


Well put, you two. And all of this was eminently predictable had there been any significant critical conversation about and research into establishing this company. But who in the nonprofit arts world listens to those who came before them (especially if they imagine themselves to be "special")? Such hubris on all sides of the table.

#14 dirac

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 10:11 AM

And all of this was eminently predictable had there been any significant critical conversation about and research into establishing this company. But who in the nonprofit arts world listens to those who came before them (especially if they imagine themselves to be "special")? Such hubris on all sides of the table.


Wheeldon was in a position to make the experiment and it failed, as often happens. But I don't think he and his backers were wrong to try.

(I don't see how Morphoses survives without Wheeldon.)


I don't, either. It must be tough for Lopez to see all that hard work go down the drain but without Wheeldon the troupe has no raison d'etre.

#15 Jayne

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 10:52 AM

random thoughts / facts presented in the NYT article:

1. The ED states the company employes 6-10 dancers full time.
2. Wheeldon states he needs more consistent dancers available to him to create new works for Morphoses.
3. Many companies only offer 36 week contracts.
4. Noted that Wheeldon could do better as artistic director of a medium sized company.

The best solution would be to turn Morphoses into a 3 month summer festival type of company. Employ dancers with gaps in their contracts, and Morphoses then performs during the summer. Wheeldon can then stage the works he creates in the summer with other companies during the remaining 9 months of the year.

So if Morphoses turned into a summer residency at Jacob's Pillow, or Vail, or the Spoleto Festival, etc, this could work well, and he would have some institutional backing. Wheeldon could employ some stars from regional companies, and Morphoses could become a real draw. Just my two cents.


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