And anyone who has been reading my blog for the past couple of weeks knows it pains me to say that. But unfortunately tonight was one of the most mind-numbing, boring nights I’ve ever had at the ballet. And I was looking so forward to it! Maybe too much…
First of all, when I referred earlier to Christopher Wheeldon as a genius, I meant the Christopher Wheeldon who’s choreographed some of my favorite ballets for NYCB, like “Scenes de Ballet” his first, “An American in Paris,” “Carousel,” “Klavier,” “Evenfall.” What happened to him? Not that I like everything syrupy sweet — definitely not — but those ballets had meaning you could latch onto, a storyline even if slight, SOMETHING. Tonight was like an extended Rorschach test, and even those can be more fun assuming you’re with someone who’s oversexed and keeps seeing genitalia in everything. Tonight was completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape after completely meaningless weird abstract shape. I’m not stupid, can you please engage my mind, Mr. Wheeldon? One abstract piece fine, but a whole night of them is insulting; I have better things to do. I probably shouldn’t say it that way: I mean that I just get tired of visuals all the time; can a dance-maker alternate the visual with the intellectual? I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be getting out of all this abstraction and it gets so frustrating when that’s all there is.
Second, regarding my earlier pronouncement of Wheeldon a genius: I think either I need to stop going to the Guggenheim Works & Process things or else I need ONLY to go to those, because everything looks so different on that small stage and in that intimate setting. All of these ballets tonight were not only abstract but when they weren’t pas de deux they utilized very few dancers, and I think either these dancers didn’t know how to dramatize or project or emote, or else the stage was just too vast and the audience too far away to really see any subtlety, to make any sense of anything. Either Wheeldon needs to make larger-scale works for a larger stage or keep these smaller scale ones and put them in a more intimate setting.
Okay, first on the program was “There Where She Loved,” a piece which I’d just raved about after seeing it at the Guggenheim. Unfortunately, the only part of it that was really compelling was the part that they staged at Works & Process. The whole is about 20 times longer and it’s so long and drawn out, it really loses its steam; it’s just completely boring. And by the time we get to the good part which I’d seen earlier (and was waiting and waiting and waiting for), I was so on the verge of falling asleep I almost missed it. To be sure, there was one earlier sweet little pas de deux evoking young love danced by Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia whose charm is likely due to its prettiness (lots of “awwwwws” in the audience), but it only lasted a couple of minutes.
Second was “Tryst Pas De Deux” which was danced by just-retired Royal Ballet legend Darcey Bussell, and Jonathan Cope. All I could see in this ballet was: two people come out onstage, regard each other, walk toward each other with purpose (making me momentarily intrigued), but then simply begin doing lifts, making a series of abstract shapes with their connected bodies. Then it was over.
Then came William Forsythe’s “Slingerland.” From what I’ve seen of his work, Forsythe is a choreographer who really respects the intellect of his audiences; he’s a very smart man and he really gives you something to chew over with his dances. And everytime I’ve seen anyone other than his own company perform his work: it’s a no-go. I wish if others were going to put on something of his, they’d work directly with him, let him coach the dancers. He has something very specific in mind and if the dancers or the person who staged the piece isn’t in on it, the audience certainly isn’t going to be. The way this came out here, it was now Wendy Whelan and Edwaard Liang who walked out onstage, regarded each other, then proceeded to make weird meaningless abstract shape after weird meaningless abstract shape with their bodies.
Next was “Prokofiev Pas De Deux.” What can I say: more abstract shape after abstract shape, although these shapes were more traditionally balletic than awkward, and the female lead was danced by Tina Pereira, who is one of the few exceptions to what I said above in terms of dancers not really knowing how to emote, dramatize or project. Other exceptions to that are: Sterling Hyltin, Gonzalo Garcia, Ashley Bouder (for sure!), Michael Nunn, and sometimes Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski depending on the piece. Unfortunately, for anyone who wasn’t there tonight, you’re not going to get to see the affecting Ms. Pereira because she’s being replaced by Alina Cojocaru for the remainder of this program.
Next was “Dance of the Hours.” Okay, I’ve never seen this one, but, according to the Playbill, it is taken from La Gioconda, Act III from 1876. The audience found this funny, and I easily got the idea that it was a riff, a joke on something, but I didn’t know what. Because of the way the magnetic Ashley Bouder dramatized it, I laughed along with everyone else, but the problem I feel is that if Wheeldon wants to draw new audiences to ballet through his work, he has to make sure everyone gets the joke. The humorous riff is a lot funnier if you have a sense of what is being “riffed” of course. And the program doesn’t tell us.
Then last was “Fools’ Paradise,” another Rorschach test, this one involving several dancers instead of just two. At one point Maria Kowroski came alive, she had a series of abstract, awkward shapes, but she had a real intention to them, her body was making a shape for a reason, and believe me the entire audience in my section leaned forward almost simultaneously. Dancers: please understand, we can tell when you think, when you’re not just doing a series of steps by rote. Unfortunately, within 15 seconds she’d disappeared into the wings.
In the New York magazine article, which I linked to in my last post, the writer frames the piece by showing Wheeldon’s venture from the perspective of a very young girl who happens in on a rehearsal, presumably the kind of new viewer Wheeldon wants to attract. The little girl likes sports, not ballet, which she knows nothing about. Wheeldon invites her in, lets her watch. At the end of the first performance, he asks her if she likes ballet now. She says no. He asks her if she likes ballet dancers, she smiles and nods yes. He says, “well then you like ballet.” But is that true? I think that’s a big part of what goes on in the ballet world right now. People are connecting to their favorite dancers. Do NYCB fans really love Balanchine and all that his ballets stand for, or are they connecting with their favorite dancers? Would I like “Clear” and “In the Upper Room” and “Sinatra Suite” as much if they weren’t danced by Marcelo Gomes and David Hallberg and all of the ABT faces and bodies and personalities that I’ve come to know and love over the past few years? I don’t really know; I’ve never seen those ballets performed by anyone else. Maybe part of the reason I wasn’t so enthralled with tonight’s program is that Wheeldon has used many dancers with whom I’m not familiar; I’m positive Philip is going to have a completely different take when he sees the program tomorrow night, and I’ll bet you he focuses mainly on his favorite dancers and not on Wheeldon’s work. Is this a good thing though? I want to get something from the choreography; I want the choreography to speak to me, the same way Forsythe’s choreography does, not just the dancer. Otherwise, I’ll only ever want to see ABT. And, how will new fans be made, who don’t already love these dancers, who don’t already have favorites? In my opinion, there’s far too much, almost absurdist, abstraction in contemporary ballet, that speaks to no one. On Friday afternoon, at his open rehearsal, Wheeldon really should spend a good deal of his time explaining to young newcomers exactly how they are supposed to read these ballets, exactly what they are supposed to get out of them. Because I’m almost positive that, with this program, no new fans will be made.
Anyway, I feel badly disliking my evening as much as I did, since I had such high hopes. As I said at the beginning of this post, maybe I had been looking too forward to this, with all the hype. So, the good thing is, if you’re reading this and haven’t yet seen Morphoses and are going to, now you’ll have this nasty review in your mind and can think how off the mark that crazy blogger was, how it’s not at all as bad as she said it was, she was just nuts. So there, I just made your enjoyment of it that much better