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Wheeldon Leaves His Own Dance Company


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#46 bart

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 03:52 AM

Perhaps Wheeldon needs to find his own version of Lincoln Kirstein

Having a Kirstein requires an artist willing to accept, be grateful for, and work closely with the person assisting him. I guess I should have added: "And perhaps Wheeldon needs to find a way to access is own inner Balanchine."

#47 Drew

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 08:55 AM

I was a little puzzled by the reports that Wheeldon had planned to leave at the end of 2010--surely not from the beginning? Morphoses was very much introduced as Wheeldon's company, not as a company that he was being invited to lead for a few years. If I were a donor, who fancied myself supporting the next important major choreographer in the world I might not be mad (just disappointed) that the company did not work out and maybe only a little mad if the choreographer turned out to be more conflicted about the process than I had known and so departed prematurely--but I would be furious if he never really had a long term committment in the first place. In fact, I can hardly believe that's the case.

For the rest, I confess that despite admiring Wheeldon I never quite understood the original excitement about Morphoses. I have tried to explain it to myself and came up with the following--but I'm not sure it's exactly right: I think that, as a lover and admirer of the art of classical ballet, I find chamber and even mid-size companies limited in what they can achieve in terms of the history of ballet. That is, they do important work, but the "center" of ballet seems to me to lie elsewhere and I never enjoy seeing the most promising balletic talent (from Feld to Wheeldon) depart that center. I say this with some trepidation since I have great respect for all the people on this board who have done beautiful and important work with such companies. But for me, ballet--classical ballet--in its most realized form is a large scale, luxury art with a substantial tradition (and sub-traditions within the tradition). My excitement about Wheeldon was always that he was working within that tradition and I always thought it would be wonderful to see him attached to a major company in which his works--including works for one or two dancers--would take their place as a part of that ongoing tradition, helping to keep it alive. Choreographers working within large institutions have successfully developed dancers who specialized in the way they want them to move (think: Tudor at ABT or even Robbins at NYCB).

I know there are counter examples, but the Morphoses project never caught my imagination. And I'm not sure the counter examples are decisive. Obviously, one may cite the counter example of Balanchine, but if he indeed said "First a school" -- or something along those lines -- he was thinking about the Maryinsky model, about the long term, about building a larger institution. He may have begun with students, but that was hardly his ultimate aim. And is anyone at all confident that if the Paris Opera had turned to him rather than Lifar, he would still have answered the invitation to come to the United States? De Valois--not a major choreographer--likewise was playing for the long term and that, too, meant a school and building a major institution on the Maryinsky model. Ballet Rambert may have been an initial site for creativity--but British ballet seems to me to culminate in the traditions of the Royal Ballet (which of course has been undergoing some changes). It does not seem that Morphoses was aiming to be a 21st century equivalent.

The other, perhaps more appropriate, counter example is Diaghilev--which perhaps Wheeldon did have in mind. Diaghilev's company lived and died with him, but during his life it WAS a creative cauldron. But his company was in some ways also parasitic on the institutions he rebelled against--even in the twenties when he had non Russian dancers like the young Markova he still depended on Maryinsky artists fleeing Russia (including Balanchine) to keep the enterprise going--and towards the end, after all, he brought back one of his great early inspirations, The Sleeping Beauty.

(The contemporary counter example would be Forsythe, but he at least had European Opera House backing. Still I have not seen enough of what he did with the company to know if perhaps that really was the best way for him to realize his vision as a ballet choreographer. I guess it was...but Forsythe is also less balletic, more on the borders of modern dance, than Wheeldon...still, he seems to me the main sticking point to my own argument.)

Most importantly, for the history of ballet, institutions can preserve the tradition in a way that single-choreographer companies cannot. The original Bournonville fans might hate the way Napoli is being performed today, but we have a great artwork passed down, however imperfectly, through generations. Likewise the original Balanchiine fans are not too happy with the way Balanchine is danced at NYCB, but NYCB makes a greater difference to the sheer preservation of some imperfect vision of Balanchine's art than any other single institution. (Companies that I have not been lucky enough to see but that many prefer in Balanchine such as PNB and San Francisco ballet have schools attached to them and are substantial institutional entities. I have always been deeply disatisfied by the limitations the great Suzanne Farrell faces in her work with the Suzanne Farrell ballet.)

I grew up on a mid-size "regional" company (the National Ballet of Washington) and have often enjoyed smaller and pick-up travelling groups of ballet dancers both as more creative enterprises (Dennis Wayne's Dancers) and showcase groups (Jacques D'amboise's Ballet Spectacular); I can also appreciate that choreographers and dancers may prefer to work in less institutional settings; I'm sure it inspires some creativity. So--I'm not at all opposed to such groupings at all. But when a talented choreographer comes along who works authentically in the tradition of classical ballet, like Wheeldon, I don't necessarily think the modern dance model ("but first a company..") serves the art all that well. Ballet seems to me to "realize" itself as an art in more substantial (and, yes, more conservative) settings. But then again, my favorite Eliot Feld ballet remains Intermezzo.

#48 Brioche

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 11:33 AM

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?


I've witnessed a small company in my neck of the woods flail with 8-10 dancers. No strong choreographic voice any longer and "founder's syndrome" inhibiting its development in a big way. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

As memory serves Ms. Lopez has always been in "top form" when making comments to the press. :wink:

#49 carbro

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 11:47 AM

Ms. Lopez was, however briefly, a member of the press. She was an arts correspondent for NBC's flagship station here in New York for a few months shortly after retiring from NYCB.

#50 miliosr

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 02:59 PM

I think that, as a lover and admirer of the art of classical ballet, I find chamber and even mid-size companies limited in what they can achieve in terms of the history of ballet. That is, they do important work, but the "center" of ballet seems to me to lie elsewhere and I never enjoy seeing the most promising balletic talent (from Feld to Wheeldon) depart that center. I say this with some trepidation since I have great respect for all the people on this board who have done beautiful and important work with such companies. But for me, ballet--classical ballet--in its most realized form is a large scale, luxury art with a substantial tradition (and sub-traditions within the tradition).


Thoughtful post, Drew.

I guess I would respond by asking the following: Are most choreographers cut-out to work on that "large scale"? It's the conundrum, isn't it?? I would agree with you that the ballet often (not always but often) works better on a grand scale. And yet so few choreographers these days succeed creatively at that level.

As flattering as it may be to receive a commission from City Ballet, I don't know that most choreographers (and certainly most young choreographers) are geared to work that way (big stage, large corps). Based on 27 years of evidence at City Ballet, I don't think the new works policy has yielded much fruit. [Not a Peter Martins-bashing post -- I think he has been right to try.]

I never much understood the rationale for Morphoses but I did think it could offer a forum for young choreographers to develop their craft on smaller stages without immediately being subject to the usual tiresome "Is he/she the next Balanchine?" snap opinions. If a piece flopped with Morphoses, then it flopped -- it didn't become some earth-shattering referendum on the fate of the classical ballet the way most new pieces at City Ballet (and elsewhere) do. If Morphoses does survive, maybe they can pursue that strand of its original vision so that younger choreographers can perfect their craft and then graduate to that "large scale"?

Just thinking out loud . . .

#51 dirac

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 04:40 PM

Oh God -- let's hope he doesn't go to the Royal! He could barely manage his little boutique company!!

I fear your are correct. Perhaps Wheeldon needs to find his own version of Lincoln Kirstein, someone who will devote himself to the artist devotedly, selflessly and with great skill. Such people are very rare, unfortunately. Almost as rare as great choreographers. :wink:


I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about his ability to run a big company in the future from this meltdown. Partners disagree, fall out, split up, sometimes acrimoniously. It happens. The He Said, She Said doesn't look good but again, hardly unprecendented.

Obviously, one may cite the counter example of Balanchine, but if he indeed said "First a school" -- or something along those lines -- he was thinking about the Maryinsky model, about the long term, about building a larger institution. He may have begun with students, but that was hardly his ultimate aim. And is anyone at all confident that if the Paris Opera had turned to him rather than Lifar, he would still have answered the invitation to come to the United States?


Excellent points, Drew. Balanchine was great at making do with what was available when he hadn't many other options to look at but Wheeldon's situation is different.

#52 Drew

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 05:55 PM

I think that, as a lover and admirer of the art of classical ballet, I find chamber and even mid-size companies limited in what they can achieve in terms of the history of ballet. That is, they do important work, but the "center" of ballet seems to me to lie elsewhere and I never enjoy seeing the most promising balletic talent (from Feld to Wheeldon) depart that center. I say this with some trepidation since I have great respect for all the people on this board who have done beautiful and important work with such companies. But for me, ballet--classical ballet--in its most realized form is a large scale, luxury art with a substantial tradition (and sub-traditions within the tradition).


....

I never much understood the rationale for Morphoses but I did think it could offer a forum for young choreographers to develop their craft on smaller stages without immediately being subject to the usual tiresome "Is he/she the next Balanchine?" snap opinions. If a piece flopped with Morphoses, then it flopped -- it didn't become some earth-shattering referendum on the fate of the classical ballet the way most new pieces at City Ballet (and elsewhere) do. If Morphoses does survive, maybe they can pursue that strand of its original vision so that younger choreographers can perfect their craft and then graduate to that "large scale"?

Just thinking out loud . . .


That makes sense to me too--Certainly the "next Balanchine" business has not done Wheeldon himself any favors and perhaps also colored the way Morphoses was seen in the press: as a would-be major new player and judged accordingly.

(By the by, I should perhaps go on record as one of the people who thought Evenfall was a well-nigh masterpiece, only falling short in the final movement. )

To be fair to the big institutions, they have long been working to give choreographers 'smaller' venues through which to grow--Forsythe was 'discovered' (as I understand it) through workshops at the Stuttgart and the Royal has staged workshop-type events at the Lynbury Studio at Covent Garden. I went to one and I don't expect I will see Cojocaru that close up again anytime soon...

#53 miliosr

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 06:04 PM

Oh God -- let's hope he doesn't go to the Royal! He could barely manage his little boutique company!!

I fear your are correct. Perhaps Wheeldon needs to find his own version of Lincoln Kirstein, someone who will devote himself to the artist devotedly, selflessly and with great skill. Such people are very rare, unfortunately. Almost as rare as great choreographers. :dry:

I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about his ability to run a big company in the future from this meltdown. Partners disagree, fall out, split up, sometimes acrimoniously. It happens. The He Said, She Said doesn't look good but again, hardly unprecendented.


But I jump to conclusions so well! :wink:

Seriously, though -- if the stress of running a modern dance-sized company was too much for him, I can just imagine what a huge institution like the Royal would do to him.

#54 kfw

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 06:54 PM

Seriously, though -- if the stress of running a modern dance-sized company was too much for him, I can just imagine what a huge institution like the Royal would do to him.

It sounds to me like it was impatience, not stress, that made him leave. He wanted more resources more quickly than this economy permitted.

#55 4mrdncr

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Posted 26 February 2010 - 09:42 PM

I always applauded Wheeldon's attempt to form a company that would be an 'incubator' for choreography and dancers, AND a collaborative effort with other art forms. It was fascinating to watch the attempt and process, and most times, the results. And I will always admire his efforts to move and promote CLASSICAL and neoclassical ballet. I am saddened that he left Morphoses, curious as to its future prospects, but wish all concerned success in their future endeavors.

However...

It has all been rather odd, because of my current documentary project...Several yeas ago, when I first thought of making a doc, I wanted to explore how three people created classical ballet companies despite supposedly aging, declining (in more ways than one) audiences, and an uncertain economy. I also chose three people who approached the problem from slightly different vantage points: choreographer, US dancer (also the rare female AD), foreign dancer. Can you guess who they were? Yes, Wheeldon, Farrell, Corella. But since AC started his project first, and I had more access at the time, that's who I filmed first. I didn't choose him because he was a star, or because of how he danced; I was fascinated by the young entrepreneur who convinced the Spanish governments, funders (eventually), and populace to support him, despite Spain having no classical ballet company for 20 years. As I kept telling him, it was the PROCESS I was interested in documenting, not just the dancing. Corella is succeeding (now even more admirable an accomplishment when others have not), Farrell is still surviving (hooray!), and Wheeldon?--despite his 'failure', doing a little of both, though on a more personal level. So, all in all, it was probably a good thing that I chose to narrow the focus and film whom I did, when I did. (Though, as a woman, I REALLY want Farrell to succeed too.)

RE: Balanchine's "A school first..." : AC had to start a company first because, as he has said, Spanish funders won't invest "unless they can see a product first." So Corella Ballet became that product, and because of its success, hopefully now the residential school will follow. (It has a great site already.)

#56 bart

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Posted 27 February 2010 - 04:07 AM

4rmdncr, thank you for that insight into Angel Corella's thinking about the process. He seems to have been quite clear about the realities AND to have had definite, detailed long-term goal. Wheeldon, notwithstanding his great talent, may not have thought things out so completely before he started out.

By the way, THANK YOU, Kathleen O'Connell, for that research and your reports on Morphoses' fillings with the NY State Charities Bureau.

#57 Alymer

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Posted 27 February 2010 - 03:11 PM

Seriously, though -- if the stress of running a modern dance-sized company was too much for him, I can just imagine what a huge institution like the Royal would do to him.


But with an institution like the Royal Ballet or New York City Ballet there are always people around to answer the telephone, deal with queries, print out the begging letters, stuff them in envelopes, make travel reservations, book studios, etc. etc. But if it is a small start-up enterprise, then if it's going to be done you have to do it yourself, no matter what your official title.

#58 sandik

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 09:13 AM

Seriously, though -- if the stress of running a modern dance-sized company was too much for him, I can just imagine what a huge institution like the Royal would do to him.


But with an institution like the Royal Ballet or New York City Ballet there are always people around to answer the telephone, deal with queries, print out the begging letters, stuff them in envelopes, make travel reservations, book studios, etc. etc. But if it is a small start-up enterprise, then if it's going to be done you have to do it yourself, no matter what your official title.


But many of the things he seemed to leave City Ballet over (having to fit his work into existing rep, not able to collaborate outside the institution) would be even more significant in a company the size and gravitas of the Royal. I'm not sure how well running a small dance group really prepares you for a larger, more conventional company.

#59 Alymer

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 03:30 PM

I think I expressed myself badly. What I meant to say that Wheeldon may not have realised just what is involved when you leave a large organisation for a small one. All of a sudden, all the back-up that you take for granted vanishes and it's up to you to solve the problem, do the job yourself or find the cash (which you probably don't have) to pay someone else to do it. And you have to learn to wait until you can afford to run things in the way you would want them to be in your ideal world. Hence perhaps, his disatisfaction with things at Morphoses.
I agree with Sandik that running a small dance company wouldn't necessarily prepare you to run a large organisation like City Ballet or the Royal (negotiating peace in the Middle East might be useful in negotiating Royal Opera house politics though) and I'm not even certain that its necessary to be a choreographer. In fact, if you are primarily a choreographer then running a company, other than one that exists largely to perform your own work, is probably deleterious. I know that MacMillan was delighted to shed his responsibilities as director.

#60 sandik

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Posted 04 March 2010 - 12:08 PM

Ah, this

...I'm not even certain that its necessary to be a choreographer. In fact, if you are primarily a choreographer then running a company, other than one that exists largely to perform your own work, is probably deleterious. I know that MacMillan was delighted to shed his responsibilities as director.


opens up an interesting direction. I've been thinking lately about what actually makes a group into a company, and what the differences are between modern dance and ballet companies, especially as we get more groups like Morphoses that seem to want to borrow from both "sides" of the field.

(And yes, I think it might be a helpful resume credit to have forged a major, international peace accord. Either that, or to be a heavyweight boxer)

In some ways I think it helps to not be a very driven choreographer if you are hoping to run a mixed repertory ensemble. If your best creative energy is focused on your own artwork, it might be difficult to make the kind of choices that best serve your ensemble if it means making room for other artists. Good intentions aside, it sounds like one of Wheeldon's complaints about the current state of Morphoses is that it doesn't serve his needs as a dancemaker, not necessarily as a collector of other choreography.

Robert Joffrey made dances, more toward the beginning of the company's life than at the end, but ultimately his biggest influence was as a collector and a commissioner of other people's choreography. For Wheeldon, perhaps this role is not what he really wants to do.


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