abatt

Wheeldon Leaves His Own Dance Company

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Christopher Wheeldon Leaves Dance Company He Created

From Today's NY Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/...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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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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Isn't it sad how friends become enemies once they go into business together?

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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.

Dirac, I wholeheartedly agree that Wheeldon was right to give it a shot. It may be that he was never able to settle in his own mind what Morphoses’ mission really was. Or it may be that as a practical matter he wasn’t able to bridge the gap between what he wanted Morphoses to be and what circumstance forced it to be. Or, it may be that like Dr Casaubon in Middlemarch, he was surprised to discover that being married (in Wheeldon’s case, to his own organization) wasn’t as profound a state of being as he had anticipated. But he wasn’t wrong to try. (Let's hope that Lopez doesn't feel obligated to soldier on with Wheeldon's original project the way Dorothea Brooke felt obligated to finish Casaubon's "The Key to all Mythologies.")

Wheeldon appears to have put a lot of faith into the notion that working with a dedicated company of dancers would allow him to be creative in a way that working with a pick-up troupe or with an institution like NYCB did not. He may have been right, but it’s hard to see now how he was going to get that company without some sacrifice, at least at the outset—e.g., by committing most of his creative energies to it, or by committing himself to a less stellar roster of dancers who could reasonably be expected to commit themselves to him for the requisite number of weeks per year, or by basing himself in just one city, or by basing himself in a city that wasn’t already stuffed full of dance companies, or by electing to focusing on creating dance rather than curating it etc, etc, etc.

I think Morphoses sans Wheeldon might have a future if it sorts out what its mission is, gets the right AD, and finds some financial supporters that want to make it happen. Perhaps it could be an “incubator “of sorts (stealing shamelessly from Biotech): Lopez contacts a promising choreographer and says “I’ll give you the infrastructure, you give me a ballet. Here are 10 good dancers, rehearsal space, a production team, and tour schedule. You don’t have to worry about any of that–just give my dancers something to dance and the audience something to watch.” Maybe that audience is in college–town auditoriums instead of City Center. Maybe it’s in smaller cities. Maybe Morphoses only comes to NY when it’s got something than NY needs to see and isn’t getting from anyone else. (There are ballet choreographers whose names aren’t Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Millepied, or Elo …) Maybe it forges alliances with folks like Leon Botstein: “Let’s augment that Bard [insert name of less-well-known or “difficult” composer here] Festival with some dance.” Or am I being hopelessly optimistic?

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Or, it may be that like Dr Casaubon in Middlemarch, he was surprised to discover that being married (in Wheeldon’s case, to his own organization) wasn’t as profound a state of being as he had anticipated.

:off topic:

Also, Wheeldon has had a charmed career – raised in elite organizations like the Royal and NYCB, showered with critical praise and encouragement until recently, and accustomed to all the resources that the world’s best companies could place at his disposal. I’m not saying he couldn’t take the heat so he got out of the kitchen, but I wonder if he found it tougher going than he expected.

I think Morphoses sans Wheeldon might have a future if it sorts out what its mission is, gets the right AD, and finds some financial supporters that want to make it happen.

That may be hard to do in the current economic climate. I’m sure it was difficult enough in these troubled times with Wheeldon involved and it may be much harder with him out of the picture, even if Lopez scales back the company’s ambitions and venues. It will be too bad if that's the case, because the venture you describe sounds like a promising one.

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Or, it may be that like Dr Casaubon in Middlemarch, he was surprised to discover that being married (in Wheeldon’s case, to his own organization) wasn’t as profound a state of being as he had anticipated.

:off topic:

Also, Wheeldon has had a charmed career – raised in elite organizations like the Royal and NYCB, showered with critical praise and encouragement until recently, and accustomed to all the resources that the world’s best companies could place at his disposal. I’m not saying he couldn’t take the heat so he got out of the kitchen, but I wonder if he found it tougher going than he expected.

I think there's something to this. In many respects, he has led a charmed creative life. I wonder if he truly understood the magnitude of what he was undertaking in terms of raising funds and dealing with the mundane organizational problems that all artistic directors must confront. Unfortunately, it's not enough to just do good work. Many choreographers have done that and still weren't able to find sufficient institutional support (although Morphoses had more than most.)

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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?

But then again, Balanchine was a great choreographer!

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I miss the Carlisle Project.... Could Morphoses potentially be a lab for new choreographers?

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Wheeldon is not the only dancer to strike out with a company of his own, or as a freelance choreographer: Avi Sher, Edwaard Liang, Benjamin Millepied, Trey MacIntyre (hmmm, all men) have all done something like this just in the past two years or so. There's lots of creativity around, but not a lot of funds to support it all.

Wheeldon started off realizing he'd only have people and spaces in fits and starts, but didn't realize how it would impact the company and the choreography itself, right away. I could see it in their first City Center season: except for the pas de 2's, the dancers had not had sufficient time rehearsing together and getting to know each other (except for people from the same company). The lack of a stable "home" really affected the work and the performances. It really limited what could be done and who could work with Morphoses.

I keep thinking that Kaatsbaan, up in Dutchess County, could be a part of a solution. They have a few huge studios, a residence for dancers, and no distractions. It would be a great place to go for one or two week long sessions where new pieces could be developed or taught. There is a terrific network of people connected with Kaatsbaan, and that couldn't hurt either. (Maybe not in the dead of winter, but later.)

So if anyone speaks to Lourdes, let her know that there is a place where she could regroup! A dance company is a terrible thing to waste.

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Some Modern choreographers have taken commissions for new work from large companies and instead of working the choreography up on the dancers of the commissioning company have developed the piece on their own company and then mounted it on the commissioning company.... It makes a certain kind of sense. I've always felt sorry for the dancers in the commissioning company, that they didn't get to have a work created on them... but it allows the choreographer to work with dancers already versed in in that choreographer's particular working style... and it's very fresh still when it's transferred to the premiering company... Too bad Wheeldon didn't use Morphoses as his laboratory.

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Too bad Wheeldon didn't use Morphoses as his laboratory.

Forgive my ignorance -- I haven't been following all the ins and outs of the company over the last year, but are there dancers whose primary (or possibly even only) contract is with Morphoses? When Lordes Lopez talks about having 6-10 dancers full time, does anyone know what the actual length of the contract is?

I think what I'm trying to figure out here is what actually constitutes a dance company. In the case of Morphoses, it sounds like a group whose major players all have other, perhaps more exacting, commitments.

Bob Joffrey started out in 1956 with six dancers, who toured in the infamous station wagon, while Joffrey himself stayed behind to keep the school running while they were performing.

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I think what I'm trying to figure out here is what actually constitutes a dance company.
A very good question ... and possibly one that Wheeldon and Lopez should have discussed more often when setting this whole thing up. :huh:

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