Review: Morphoses - The Wheeldon Company in Programme 2: Six Fold Illuminate/Commedia/Fools’ Paradise at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 - 27 Sep 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 29 September 2008

Performance: 26 Sept

This performance was a significant coming of age for Christopher Wheeldon’s troupe, being the first-ever all-Morphoses event with three works made specifically for the fledgling company. These comprised the world premiere of the first piece Wheeldon has commissioned from another choreographer; a quick reprise of his own world premiere from two nights previously; and the chance for another look at *Fool’s Paradise* which was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells for Morphoses’ first season, a year ago. The fusion of classical ballet discipline into the free-flowing dynamic of this fresh choreography provided for a memorable evening.

Wheeldon has given a refreshing lift to each programme with a brief, unscripted pre-performance talk, which he describes as ‘live programme notes’ and this has been a really worthwhile innovation. Not only does it provide some useful background insight to the work to follow, it also captures the audience’s attention to get them in the zone before the first step is taken and provides a lifeline to latecomers! Before Programme 1, I was struck by the historical bridge – across 99 years – joining Wheeldon’s ambition for his travelling players to that of Diaghilev and the original Ballet Russes; that analogy was emphasised here again by Wheeldon’s touching revelation that the dancers had brought all the costumes and backdrops from the USA in their luggage. “It’s amazing what you can do with a large iron”, he said! There’s a real sense of the same independent, pioneering, creativity burgeoning within Wheeldon’s ambition for Morphoses and we are surely in for some exciting times.

Wheeldon could, of course, simply use Morphoses as a vehicle for his own work and the extent that he has done so until now, is obviously explained financially since it avoids the need to pay for others’ work. But, it’s clear that he relishes the opportunity to commission work and his first has been extended to the Canadian, Emily Molnar. She has turned to Steve Reich’s music for her inspiration in a thoroughly contemporary ballet for six dancers. In a sense one can see this as the “first” purely Morphoses work, not just since it represents Wheeldon’s debut as an artistic director, but also because it doesn’t rely on starry guest dancers. Molnar has worked with the five dancers not borrowed from elsewhere, supplemented by a brave Ed Watson of the Royal Ballet who clearly had little time to familiarise himself with the choreography but covered it like a true professional. I wouldn’t turn to Reich for moments of personal relaxation and the repetitive motif became too much for me before the six folds were fully illuminated but Molnar’s choreography was always engaging and performed outstandingly by the company dancers, amongst whom Rubinald Pronk’s solo was particularly memorable.

It was a great pleasure to see *Fool’s Paradise* and *Commedia* again, two Wheeldon works destined, I feel sure, to become classics. Joby Talbot’s orchestral version of *The Dying Swan* is music I would listen to again and again and the lighting (by Penny Jacobus) is equally outstanding. Wheeldon rises to the great expectations of his sight and sound collaborators with inspired choreography and he is aided, in turn, by stellar performances from his nine dancers led by the incomparable Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski. _*Commedia* _was a chance to marvel again, so soon, at the incredible maturity of 15 year-old Beatriz Stix-Brunell (the sixth of Morphoses’ own dancers) and the sensational form of Leanne Benjamin, who seems to become more stunning as the years pass by. It’s illuminating to pause on the fact that if Beatriz lasts as well, someone will be writing of her in a similar vein in 2035!

The evening’s only sadness was the reminder in the programme notes that Wheeldon ascribes Commedia in memory of his friend and Royal Ballet School contemporary, David Fielding, who died in July, aged just 35. Fielding was, if anything, the choreographer of that extraordinary generation (including, as well, Christopher Hampson and Cathy Marston) who showed the most promise. David was a quiet, unostentatious man and he struggled to gain the recognition and commissions he deserved and it is, of course, a dreadful tragedy that the light has gone out far too early.

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