Review: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in Programme 2 at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 19-23 Sep 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Saturday 22 September 2007

‘Allegro Brillante/ Slingerland pas de deux/ Fool’s Paradise/ After The Rain’

Sadler’s Wells: 21 September 2007

For anyone who needed such relief, Allegro Brillante was an antidote to the earlier programme’s pre-occupation with “duets in the dark”. Here was an ensemble burst of light and energy, a bold statement which Balanchine once said contained everything he knew about the classical ballet.

The main roles brought together Alexandra Ansanelli, a former Principal of the New York City Ballet, now with the Royal Ballet, and Angel Corella, the showman of American Ballet Theatre. It seemed odd that this great virtuoso dancer should come to London to be little more than a foil for the ballerina, but it must say something for the regard with which Wheeldon is held – either that, or Corella owes him a big favour! Ansanelli has had a rough time with the critics and balletomanes since arriving in London and here was a chance to shine in a concentrated essay of classical language with her native New York accent. She captured the Allegro Brillante wonderfully well, expressing the joy of dance through every passage, with phrasing that was impeccably timed; but it was hard to ignore the occasional imperfections of technique in a role that covers every detail.

Forsythe’s Slingerland pas de deux was much more memorably danced than in the earlier programme. Wendy Whelan and Edwaard Liang brought a graceful fluidity to the duet, giving so much more resonance to the voyeuristic feel of watching an intimacy unfold, late at night in a barely floodlit courtyard. Whelan carried much of this second programme on her slender shoulders, since she (and Craig Hall) also featured prominently in Wheeldon’s new work and again in the concluding duet of After the Rain.

Fools’ Paradise was a third consecutive success for Wheeldon’s London premieres; a dark and moody work, performed to Joby Talbot’s evocative piano-based score. The smoke-filled opening initially worried me into the mistaken premonition that we were in for nothing new, and there were passages where the choreographic sequences seemed familiar, but these were dispelled by moments of intense, almost agonising, lyricism. I’ve no doubt that this work was made in a hurry, with lots of goodwill but little money, and it has turned into a cut-price marvel.

Both programmes ended with Wheeldon’s After The Rain, a dance quite literally of two halves: the first part of this Pärt double-bill is special only for leading us to the concluding pas de deux which is to die for. The backdrop of Pärt’s haunting Spiegel Im Spiegel , so beautifully played by Cameron Grant, presents a choreographic challenge that Wheeldon has conquered by layering gentle intimacy with an understated eroticism to suggest an illicit love affair of gargantuan intensity. It really is the most beautiful of dances, so tenderly performed by Whelan and Hall.

You have to take your hat off to Chris Wheeldon, a choreographer who has succeeded sometimes in spite of himself. He could have basked in the lifelong security of being Resident Choreographer at one great ballet company whilst travelling the world making dances for all the others: it takes some serious courage to jump from a safe, luxury berth in a big ship to become captain of your own flimsy dinghy. But it’s also the action of someone who recognises the route to complacency and relishes challenge. I can’t wait for the next stage of his Morphoses.

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