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Wheeldon's Polyphonia


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#1 Manhattnik

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Posted 04 January 2001 - 11:51 PM

A quick note about Christopher Wheeldon's new ballet, Polyphonia, which was premiered tonight at NYCB.

In a nutshell, it was wonderful. I liked very much the way Wheeldon explored some of the choreographic trails Balanchine blazed with Agon, without looking derivative. Yes, it's a leotards-and-tights ballet (beautiful deep purple ones, by Holly Hynes). The various pieces for piano by Gyorgy Ligeti were pleasant enough, if not memorable, but the dance Wheeldon made to them was quite extraordinary.

I'm still enthralled by the memory of the three scrumptuous duets for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto.

I'd gladly see this ballet many more times. More later.

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 02:10 AM

I offer another take on it in the "reviews" forum.

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#3 Diana L

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 08:30 AM

I'm new here and new to ballet. I've only been watching for about 2 years now, so you'll have to pardon my not knowing all of the terms.
I went to last night's performance at NYC Ballet too. Here's my thoughts.
Overall I didn't like the way the program was set up. It was really hard for me to watch 2 piano pieces in a row.
2&3 Part Inventions. I liked the piece overall, I thought the two lesser female roles were danced far better and seemed more rehearsed than the 2 female leads. I really enjoyed watching Eva Natanya too, she reminds me of a young Jennie Ringer. The musicality and the fact that she looks like she's really enjoying it.
I thought Rachel Rutherford's solo was beautiful. She's a stunning woman and the way she swoons with her arms is just magnificent.
Polyphonia. It reminded me of Episodes at some parts but I liked it overall. I really liked the lighting of the piece too. There was a section danced by Jennie Somogyi and Edwaard Liang were they waltz that was very clever.
Wendy Whelan is a beautiful human rubberband! I really enjoyed watching how far (and seemingly easy) she could move her body. Jock Soto was very dark and mysterious opposite her. Overall I liked the piece, but it lacked originality. Some parts I thought (like the waltz) were very original, but I could have assumed it was a Balanchine piece (which in a way is an backhanded compliment too).
Scotch Symphony. I had never seen this one before and I really loved it. A couple of other notes. The majority of corps dancers wore their hair in a low bun and there were a few girls that had the buns on top of their head. That may be nitpicking on my part, but it broke a pattern I noticed. Am I reading too much into that?
Janie Taylor and Kyra Nichols. Taylor was great, lots of gusto, she just went for it. A little unpolished but Nichols makes up for that. She's the grand dame of the company and her little nuances were beautiful. I felt like she was what Taylor will be after she gets out of lass mode (at least in the ballet) so that was a nice complement of dancers. I really enjoyed Taylor though, watching her I wanted to go out and buy a kilt and bright red socks!
I apologize for however raw this is, as a newcomer to ballet (and writing about it) it's overwhelming sometimes how much knowledge everyone here seems to have, please go easy on me Posted Image

#4 Yvonne

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 09:17 AM

You did just fine and I enjoyed reading your post! Posted Image

#5 cargill

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 09:34 AM

Leigh, This is just a comment on your great review of last night's performance. I have to say, I agree with whoever said that programming was a problem--two piano, cutsey juvenile ballets in a row made for a very long evening!

Leigh said that the change in atmosphere in Scotch Symphony just has to be accepted, that at the end people just dance. Watching it last night, it struck me that there might be a coherent plot. The first movement is the human community symbolized by the little Scotch girl (I usually like Janie Taylor a lot, but she seemed too light in this, kicking as high and wild as she could, and not crisp enough.)

The second movement is the magic one, where the James character meets an enchanted creature. I imagined that Nichols was under a spell which "James" could break, which explained the men blocking his way. She kept telling him what to do (all that pointing) and when he finally obeyed her, the spell was broken. There is a myth to that effect, I seem to remember--once the man does what he is told, the creature becomes human. (It is more complicated than that.)

And the third movement is back in the human community, celebrating the wedding and then everyone celebrates order and harmony.

I have seen it many times, and this was the first time it struck me like that, but it seems to fit.

#6 Michael

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 10:16 AM

One of the greatest things about Balanchine for me is how, in pas de deuxs, something intense always seems to be happening, only you can't say what it is. In the pdd in Agon, for example, or in many passages in Serenade. Something happens that is almost supra-rational or supra-narrative, something resonant which the viewer is left to infuse with emotion and meaning. My struggle with Scotch Symphony the other night was that I did not sense anything to be happening between the couple, I felt Askegaard to be present, but those broad fourth positions, arms karate-chop wide, preparing for every pirouette, in Nichols' part seemed to get in the way for me and I just wondered.

I've really got to see this again.

A problem for the ballet viewer is that few things in art are more subjective seeming than "nothing happened for me" or "nothing seemed to be happening."

[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited January 05, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited January 05, 2001).]

#7 Manhattnik

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 11:53 AM

I didn't have a problem with two piano ballets in a row. I had quite a relaxing time at Starbuck's until the first intermission. They make a really nice gingerbread latte.

#8 Dale

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Posted 06 January 2001 - 09:00 AM

I guess I did find Polyphonia derivative. As Leigh mentions, not only does CW make references to Agon and Episodes but also to Martins' River of Light and Esctatic Orange. I had a real feeling of been there, done that better. It wasn't that the dances weren't well crafted, Wheeldon is very talented, or expertly danced. There were even a few nice touches for me, like Somogyi's waltz number or Ansanelli's solo and duet with Craig Hall.

Leigh said that Scotch Symphony is a departure for NYCB. Well, I'd disagree (think La Sonnambula, Serenade, Union Jack etc...). And I think that's one of the probelms with Wheeldon's ballet. He's produced your typical NYCB "leotard ballet." I think that the succeeding generations of choreographers have lost a few of Balanchine's lessons. One being that just because a ballet is abstract that it is not without meaning. If post-modern ballet comments on the music, Wheeldon never shows me why he's chosen Ligeti, why these particular pieces, why the contruction that he's chosen. All that twisting and contorting in the Wheelan section...then I look at some of the simple ideas that Balanchine has used in Scotch Symphony. The way the lovers stand together and corps men and women create a sort of trestle over the lead couple with their arms as they reach towards each other. Or when in La Source the soloist and the corp women bourree backward with their arms outstretched. It happens only for a bar or two but it seems so easy but unexpected.

#9 Juliet

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Posted 06 January 2001 - 09:58 PM

Well, I really, really liked it.

I won't go out and buy the music (yes, you're correct, you did hear it in "Eyes Wide Shut"), but I thought it was a most interesting ballet.

Who is cavilling about leotard ballets? In New York? Aren't we used to them by now? And Holly Hynes did an excellent job with the aubergine colour and subtleties of cut for the men.

Does the fact that he quoted movement from other pieces label his work as "derivative," and therefore, not valuable and interesting? I know a great many contemporary choreographers whose work is immensely derivative -- yes, shadow patchwork-quilts of others' works, and yet they are still beautiful and evocative.

I don't agree with the self-promotion (puffery) label being placed on this artist and neither do I agree with the paeans being sung in the NYTimes. I do think that the work I saw on Thursday night was very, very interesting......the lighting was superb, the dancers were cast properly (although I doubt if ever another pair of dancers but Whelan and Soto can do their roles justice) and I found it a really stimulating and well-danced performance.

If I make a black and white dress with a big hat setting it off is everyone going to say it's no good because it quotes from Cecil Beaton? Of course not. And if you do, I wouldn't care, because a good idea doesn't cease being a good idea just because I didn't use it first.

I thought this ballet was a solid, well-crafted work that I would not be at all adverse to seeing again----and not only because here in Washington we have to sit through mostly drek in new ballet creations....never mind the costumes.......

[This message has been edited by Juliet (edited January 06, 2001).]

#10 kfw

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Posted 06 January 2001 - 10:51 PM

Originally posted by Manhattnik:
I didn't have a problem with two piano ballets in a row. I had quite a relaxing time at Starbuck's until the first intermission. They make a really nice gingerbread latte.


Manhattnik, that would be the Starbucks a couple of blocks to the south, yes? I know Starbucks is just about everywhere now, but they aren't in the State Theatre, surely. It can't be that bad. Yet. Can it? Posted Image

#11 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 January 2001 - 10:59 PM

As an artist who has spent most of my life getting the term "derivative" lobbed at me, I say there is nothing wrong with quoting or even with derivation. But if you're going to do it, you had better borrow very very well, because it's the first line of attack if people don't like the work.

I think Wheeldon quoted effectively in Mercurial Manouevres and did not in Polyphonia. In Manoeuvres the borrowings mostly all referred to the same source, offered a clear picture and even a commentary on the source material. In Polyphonia the borrowings are scattershot (Here's some Agon, here's some Forsythe, here's a sprinkling of Fearful Symmetries) and the effect is that you don't know why they are there. What is the "subject" of Polyphonia? If it is "modern ballet", which I think is the reason for these quotes, then Wheeldon needs to get that across, and frankly, I think he may not know what the subject of the ballet is. Derivative is fine. But Wheeldon was also comparatively indiscriminate in my opinion.

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[This message has been edited by Leigh Witchel (edited January 06, 2001).]

#12 Manhattnik

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Posted 06 January 2001 - 11:02 PM

Actually, it's the one a few blocks to the north. I think a Starbuck's in the State Theater lobby would be great -- at least it would be less expensive.

#13 Shirley

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 04:50 PM

Great to read the views on this new ballet. I saw Wheeldon's new ballet he did last summer for the Royal Ballet (There Where She Loves) and thought it was a wonderful piece.

I'm not that up to date on what he has choreographed but I was wondering if he has turned his hand to a 3 act ballet?

#14 Nanatchka

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 06:32 PM

Not only does Manhattnik go to Starbucks, he brings back cookies. I could have used on on Thursday--I found the Wheeldon upsetting. So many contortions. From the fourth row, Whelan looked like a circus act rather than the very grand ballerina she is. Agreed, two piano ballets is bad programming, but maybe when the evening was scheduled Wheeldon hadn't selected the music. As for Scotch--suddenly, after the pastel Robbins and the noir Wheeldon, there they were. Steps with intrinsic meaning. What a concept.

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 07 January 2001 - 09:05 PM

Well, as far as I'm concerned, Whelan is a grand ballerina when she's buttering her toast. I thought she was magnificent in the Wheeldon. Wheeldon's got all-too-rare kinetic and spatial smarts -- when other choreographers decide they're going to do the obligatory leotards-and-tights hommage to Balanchine it looks perfunctory and formulaic. Remember, if you can stand it, Martins' Reliquary. Wheeldon understands that choreography is about making shapes in time and space, and his shapes are damn interesting. Yes, he's working on turf that's familiar to City Ballet audiences, but I thought what he did along those lines was witty, engrossing and moving. Let's face it, none of us would care a fig about Balanchine if, first and foremost, his ability to string steps together to create a larger whole wasn't downright fascinating (I know, that's an undertsatement). I'm not going to say Wheeldon's a nascent Balanchine, but he has assimilated an understanding of how dancers create shapes in space which shows, at least, that he's not only been paying attention, but has the facility to put to use what he's learned.

And, while there are certainly situational and logistical allusions to other works, I don't think there's a single out-and-out quote. Even the girl-down-the-back bit refers to Episodes, but not exactly.


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