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Wheeldon Leaves His Own Dance Company


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#16 abatt

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 11:10 AM

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

#17 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 12:17 PM

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?

#18 dirac

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 05:59 PM

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.

#19 miliosr

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 06:17 PM

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.)

#20 mimsyb

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 06:27 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?


But then again, Balanchine was a great choreographer!

#21 Amy Reusch

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:51 PM

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

#22 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 10:19 PM

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.

#23 Amy Reusch

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 07:11 AM

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.

#24 sandik

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 11:11 PM

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.

#25 bart

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 05:09 AM

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:

#26 Mashinka

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 05:28 AM

Over this side of the pond there are whispers that he may have been freeing himself up to take on Ms Mason's job when she retires: but that's the cynical Brits for you.

#27 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 06:10 AM

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:


Out of curiosity on this very point, I started trawling the dance company IRS Form 990s and other filings posted on the New York State Attorney General's Charities Bureau website (www.charitiesnys.com). It's a fascinating exercise. A factoid: in terms of revenue, Morphoses and Complexions were about the same size in 2007. Morphoses had total revenues of $1.47 million ($729K in contributions /grants and $740K in performance income); its expenses totaled $796K - i.e. it socked away $674K. Complexions had total revenues of $1.3 million ($652K in contributions /grants and $689K in performance income); its expenses totaled $1.14 million. (Someone at Complexions has real fund raising mojo: contributions /grants shot up to $1.2 million in 2008.)

One can see via the filings how much Complexions paid its dancers in 2007 ($522K) - what isn't available is how many were under contract and for how many weeks. (Thirteen are listed on its current roster, along with a ballet master and assistant ballet master.)

Morphoses' 2007 and 2008 "Performer Fees" were $305K and $273K, respectively. I assume that some or all of this was for dancers. IIRC, there was at least some live music on its 2007 programs - I don't know whether musicians are included in "Performer Fees" or whether they are included in "Direct Production Fees" ($122K / $193K) or "Artistic and Performance" ($37K / $51K) Travel expenses were $112K / $113K .

Keep in mind that 2007 was Morphoses' first year; it was Complexions' 13th.

Morphoses' 2008 990 (go here) contains a multi-page summary of the year's activities - where it performed, who it commissioned works from, etc - and some prose about its mission.

Deborah Jowitt has some comments on Wheeldon's announcement here.

#28 Ray

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 07:26 AM

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:


Out of curiosity on this very point, I started trawling the dance company IRS Form 990s and other filings posted on the New York State Attorney General's Charities Bureau website (www.charitiesnys.com). It's a fascinating exercise. A factoid: in terms of revenue, Morphoses and Complexions were about the same size in 2007. Morphoses had total revenues of $1.47 million ($729K in contributions /grants and $740K in performance income); its expenses totaled $796K - i.e. it socked away $674K. Complexions had total revenues of $1.3 million ($652K in contributions /grants and $689K in performance income); its expenses totaled $1.14 million. (Someone at Complexions has real fund raising mojo: contributions /grants shot up to $1.2 million in 2008.)

One can see via the filings how much Complexions paid its dancers in 2007 ($522K) - what isn't available is how many were under contract and for how many weeks. (Thirteen are listed on its current roster, along with a ballet master and assistant ballet master.)

Morphoses' 2007 and 2008 "Performer Fees" were $305K and $273K, respectively. I assume that some or all of this was for dancers. IIRC, there was at least some live music on its 2007 programs - I don't know whether musicians are included in "Performer Fees" or whether they are included in "Direct Production Fees" ($122K / $193K) or "Artistic and Performance" ($37K / $51K) Travel expenses were $112K / $113K .

Keep in mind that 2007 was Morphoses' first year; it was Complexions' 13th.

Morphoses' 2008 990 (go here) contains a multi-page summary of the year's activities - where it performed, who it commissioned works from, etc - and some prose about its mission.

Deborah Jowitt has some comments on Wheeldon's announcement here.


Thank you for carrying out all of this research!

#29 sandik

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 08:52 AM

[Out of curiosity on this very point, I started trawling the dance company IRS Form 990s and other filings posted on the New York State Attorney General's Charities Bureau website (www.charitiesnys.com).


Thank you for carrying out all of this research!


Absolutely!!!

I've been thinking hard about these things since one of the better choreographers to come out of Pacific Northwest Ballet is starting up a company, and saying many of the same things that Wheeldon did when he began this new enterprise. (wants to work on own interests rather than fitting commissioned works into other reps, wants to work with dancers of own choosing, wants to encourage collaboration and collegiality among artists...)

I think Deborah Jowitt's article in the Village Voice puts several fingers on some of the salient points (as she usually does), especially in the cultural differences between ballet and modern dancers and their expectations about choreography. Whether it's hard wired into people drawn to modern dance, or inculcated in the training, there is an expectation that everyone in the field will at least try to make their own dances as well as performing the works of others. This makes the founding of another ensemble more of an evolutionary step and less of a battle -- it's less fraught. Many, if not most, fail -- that's the nature of attrition in dance, but if there are more people trying, there are more groups that do have success.

Ballet doesn't necessarily have this freedom anymore. It seems to me, looking through old newspapers and magazines, that there were more little startup groups in the 40s and 50s, and even into the 60s, that wanted to be what Wheeldon seemed to be hoping for -- a chamber sized ensemble with a mixed repertory. At that point, though, the whole regional ballet movement seemed to shift the attention to community based groups with larger ambitions, and things evolved as they have.

On a tangential note, it occurs to me that if Wheeldon had been interested in mounting historic repertory as well as creating new work, he might have taken advantage of the Ballet Russe anniversary to slide a couple of those works into the Morphoses rep and perhaps gain some additional momentum that way. Those of you who have had a chance to see his group, do you think they might have been a good fit with that aesthetic?

#30 Dale

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 09:24 AM

I'm going to be a little harsh here. I agree with the other comments here that said Wheeldon has had a charmed creative life. I just don't see that he wanted it enough. And make no mistake, he is the product, so he can walk away and in two years start Christopher Wheeldon Ballet and there would be no problem. But when you are starting a new ballet group, especially ballet, there's going to be rough going. And just seeing that financial statement (thank you Kathleen), it wasn't as rough as it could be. He never really had his own dancers. They were always from NYCB, the Royal, SFB and ABT. He played at City Center and Sadler Wells. Building a company takes time. It takes developing dancers. Again, I hate to use Balanchine as an example, but I will. When he first started working in the U.S., he used students, he used dancers who had gigs at musicals and films. He made do with who he had when he had them. The Four Temperaments premiered at the Central High School of Needle Trades - not a grand theater. Same with Tudor and Ashton in the beginning. Or look at the New Chamber Ballet. I think Wheeldon leaving also sends a message to potential dancers for any company Wheeldon might have in the future. Why sacrifice to work with a choreographer who might bail? Think of those dancers who left companies (one left ABT) to work with him and now he's gone.


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