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Wheeldon's Polyphonia

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#16 Mike


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Posted 07 January 2001 - 10:47 PM

I have mixed feelings about this ballet. I enjoyed it very much; in fact, I left the theater feeling exhilarated, my mind filled with Wheeldon's dazzlingly inventive images. Yet, as much as I tried, I couldn't look at all of that fabulous choreography and see a coherent ballet in it. The ballet looked to me like some cold exercise in creating novel combinations of steps and body movements, wonderful to watch, but ultimately unsatisfying, like eating an extremely tasty meal, but being just as hungry at the end as you were when you sat down to eat. It was a first impression, of course, and the chances are pretty good that I just didn't understand what Wheeldon was up to. But not understanding ballets is kind of a hobby of mine; I'm quite good at it, in fact. From this one, though, I came away with the feeling that there just wasn't much to understand, that there was nothing to wrestle with or think about, the way there is with most Balanchine ballets. It left me with the impression that no matter how many times I see it, the whole will never be more than a collection of discrete parts. It's worth seeing, in fact it's brilliant to look at. But to me it was a cold brilliance, and I wanted it to be a lot more.

#17 AmandaNYC


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Posted 08 January 2001 - 01:55 PM

Originally posted by eWolf:
From this one, though, I came away with the feeling that there just wasn't much to understand, that there was nothing to wrestle with or think about, the way there is with most Balanchine ballets. It left me with the impression that no matter how many times I see it, the whole will never be more than a collection of discrete parts. It's worth seeing, in fact it's brilliant to look at. But to me it was a cold brilliance, and I wanted it to be a lot more.

eWolf, I think you just about summed up how I felt. I enjoyed it, but not for the gestalt. Separately each piece was interesting to watch. But, afterwards, as I thought about it, I could only think of the unifying aspects of the neat lighting and quoting of Balanchine pieces. I agree with Leigh that there's nothing wrong with quoting. Balanchine certainly quotes other Balanchine. But, when that is one of the few things I can take away... that's when it bothers me.

I do think that Wheeldon knows how to use his dancers very well. He knows how to show them off to good effect. After seeing Martins' Concerto Armonici, which I think makes both Whelan and M. Tracey look worse than they look in other ballets, I certainly value a lot more that ability to tailor choreography to a specific dancer.


#18 E Johnson

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Posted 10 January 2001 - 06:38 PM

I saw "Polyphonia" in the 1/6/01 matinee performance. I agree with those who have said that one problem with the ballet was that it did not hang together well. To me it seemed like several separate dances that were not in any real way unified. Some of the individual parts I liked and some I did not.

Technically, there was little to complain about. I really liked the costumes and lighting and the dancers were spot-on.

Polyphonia compared badly to Mercurial Maneuvres, which I liked, in at least two ways. One, I didnít feel that Wheeldon was comfortable in this style, it didn't come naturally and so the seams and the effort showed. He was having a difficult time choreographing in this style and as a result had nothing left over to make the ballet coherent, or meaningful. MM, by contrast, seemed to just flow. Two, he really didn't show me anything new about the dancers. One of the lovely things about MM was the nice big role for Liang, who I like a lot; Wheeldon showed us Liang in a different light than we had seen him before. (I got a similar feeling about Ansanelli here -- we were seeing a new side of her -- but not to as great an extent.) Here, he mainly showed us what we already know about Soto and Whelan, having seen them perform Agon, etc., over the years -- they are really good at these contortionist things, they can look cold and dispassionate while doing them; they will be rock-solid as dancing partners and yet can have next to no obvious emotional connections. Well, we've SEEN that. Show me something else. I almost got the feeling that Wheeldon knew that was what he was doing when, at the end of their last (I think )pdd he had Whelan and Soto, after he has passed her under his leg which was at right angles to the stage, simply kneel and stare out at the audience. They seemed almost defiant: "This is what we do. We did it. We did it perfectly."

Yes, its better than Reliquary. Not exactly strong praise. I donít think this ballet shoe Wheeldon is a bad choreographer; he did move the dancers around, he has a good feeling for space. I think it showed either that he isnít going to be comfortable doing leotard ballets, and perhaps shouldnít try, or at least that he should think a lot harder before doing another one.

#19 Guest_MichaelClancey_*

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Posted 17 January 2001 - 10:21 AM

Wheeldon's lack of depth is really beginning to bore me. His ballets are beautiful, but they're like a beautiful woman with nothing to say.

#20 BalletNut


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Posted 17 January 2001 - 02:41 PM

Originally posted by Shirley:

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?

Wheeldon did a version of A Midsummer Night's dream for the Colorado Ballet, but I'm not sure if it was three acts. However, it is a story ballet, if that's what you were wondering.

#21 Drew


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Posted 18 January 2001 - 12:34 AM

I only just saw Polyphonia this evening -- from one viewing, I don't have much radically new to add to what has been said but I'm balletomane enough to want to give it my spin anyway. I partly agree with several of the criticisms above and in Leigh Witchel's review, but overall still feel more like Manhattnik and Juliet...That is, I left the theater happy, intrigued, and wanting to see the ballet again.

This is only the second Wheeldon ballet I've seen; the first was a rather slight pas de deux done for Darcey Bussell at the Royal -- pas de trois if you count the skirt which, in the opening of the ballet, had a rather large role to play. So first, I was happy with Polyphonia, because I finally had the chance to see for myself that the interest in Wheeldon is really justified. Also, I do think this ballet is about something -- albeit the something it is about, is just what is giving people pause. That is, it's about its quotations and allusions. The ballet even "stages" this with its theatrical lighting effects: when it opens with the four couples at the back of the stage in an allusion to and revision of Agon, the lights shine on that opening movement sequence in such a way that gigantic shadows of the couples are projected on the backdrop. The effect is repeated at the close of the ballet. It is as if Wheeldon is signaling that this is a ballet made to be a kind of shadow image or double of others. (Juliet referred to "shadow patchwork quilts.")...as if, too, he is signalling that it is a ballet overlooked by the giant shadows of Balanchine ballets past (Episodes, Agon...)Maybe that's a little fanciful, and almost certainly Wheeldon doesn't entirely pull it off, but I don't think he is working without thought -- and I do mean "thought" as refracted/embodied/suggested by the choreography, thinking through bodies, not concepts that can't be seen.

I also felt that even some of the most Balanchine-esque sections had distinctive inflections and qualities: the Agon type movements of the first pas de deux for Whelan and Soto also involved some lifts that had an eerie weightless quality that seemed to me rather different than Whelan/Soto in Agon...their third pas de deux had images of Soto cradling Whelan, sometimes distored and intensified into a kind of grasping, climbing imagery. This, too, seemed to me something more than re-cooked or cutesy Stravinsky ballet left-overs. (I have to admit, though, that I don't know the City Ballet repetory "cold" the way others here do; in particular, although I've seen Forsythe and Martins ballets, I would only very rarely recognize specific quotations of their work...)

One section of the ballet that many critics and people on this board have (rightly!) singled out for admiration is the material for Ansanelli -- the brief pas de deux with Craig Hall and the solo that follows. This is one of the most distinctive sections of the ballet. I don't know quite how to characterize the choreography, but one effect that Wheeldon uses (and elsewhere in the ballet, but mostly in Ansanelli's solo) is to have the dance phrases start -- and start slowly, gravely -- during a rest or pause in the music, so that the musical phrase seems to arise from soloist's movement or even her mood rather than vice-versa. Ansanelli also has a quiet, repeating step (image really) when she bourrees with her back to the audience and her arms in second, and then gives her arms the barest suggestion of a ripple; it is as if there were the barest recollection of Odette's exit at the end of Act II of Swan Lake. In my eyes, this was not an ingenious quote, but a delicate way of crystallizing the private, distant, slightly dreamy melancholy that infuses the whole solo.

I would have to see the ballet again, before I would say that the whole merely fell into parts -- but I understand the criticism. (It's a risk, too, that is aggravated when one assembles a score from a group of piano pieces that were not written as a suite or grouping of any kind.) Still, the final movement drew on an energy and on imagery that clearly developed from earlier sections of the ballet. Whether it really worked to pull the ballet together, is hard (for me) to say on one viewing, but perhaps not. I did think, too, that some sections of the ballet were decidedly slighter than others -- usually those in which I also thought the Ligeti music was slighter (or at least brighter, more tonal) than the others. Most egregiously, in the closing section when the whole ensemble straighten their arms and flex their wrists, criss-crossing their arms etc., the ballet does start to look like an apprentice work or merely "external" attempt to reproduce the company's modernist style, rather than exploring it from within...but for the most part, I found Polyphonia rather better than that.

Finally, it was excellently danced by everyone -- but Whelan was quite special. Part of what makes her special is that she is NOT just a rubber band or a contortionist; Her movements have weight and shape as well as stretch and flexibility. (No-one has really said otherwise, but somehow that suggestion seems to hover between the lines of how she gets described). Ansanelli, as the above already suggests, was also quite lovely. Andrew Veyette replaced Edward Liang.

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited January 18, 2001).]

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