New Wheeldon Pretty But Not Profound

(photo by Paul Kolnick)

So last night was the premiere of the newest ballet by Christopher Wheeldon at New York City Ballet, the last he’ll choreograph for the company in his role as resident choreographer. Named ROCOCO VARIATIONS, because it was choreographed to Tchiakovsky’s music of the same name, it was relatively short and minimal, involving a total of four dancers — two male / female couples. Overall, my first impressions are that it was sweet and pretty, but nothing that really blew me away. The curtain opened to a bare stage, no sets. First one couple emerged, then another, the two women dressed in really lovely bronze-colored strapless dresses, the flowing skirts A-level and knee-length. They resembled a cross between ballgowns and a long tulle ballet tutu, and at first I thought it was going to be reminiscent of a Balanchine ballroom ballet, but I was wrong; it was pretty much straight ballet pas de deux. The men wore brown tights and white billowing tops covered by 19th Century-esque beige vests. The music was absolutely beautiful, it goes without saying, and Wheeldon’s very musical; the steps “looked like” the music.

I appreciated a few moments of original partnering and movement: at one point, when all four are onstage, the women stand next to each other and extend their arms toward each other, and the men walk around them and underneath their arms, on the way through grabbing each other and doing a short, jaunty little male -on- male dance. Cute! There was also a nice, evocative shape made by one couple — Sterling Hyltin and Giovanni Villalobos — when Giovanni lunged deeply toward her and she leaned toward him on one toe, her back leg in an arabesque. Where normally the ballerina would keep her head up to maintain her balance and smile brightly at her partner’s face, here she covered his hands with hers and let her head fall all the way underneath their locked hands. It looked like she was really deferring to him, really trusting him, and it was original. Near the end, Adrian Danchig-Waring, the other man, bent down, and his ballerina Sara Mearns, lay on his back, her body straight, almost like a log, and he carried her off that way, bent-backed, as if now bearing a weight.

I was really mesmerized by Mearns and Danchig-Waring. Adrian’s arms were so fluid, they were like water. And both were very expressive with their upper bodies; they had beautiful port de bras (arm movements) culminating with intricate, delicate shaping of the wrists.

I’ll see the ballet again, but, on first sighting, I found the choreography pretty and lyrical, with points of originality, but nothing tremendously profound. My thoughts are that Wheeldon is petering out a bit, wanting to focus now on his own company, Morphoses.

The rest of the evening consisted of Balanchine’s sweetly Romantic “Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fee'” — which translates to “The Fairy’s Kiss” and is based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale; Peter Martins’s short tribute to China, “The Chairman Dances,” likely in honor of the Chinese New Year (Happy Chinese New Year everyone!); and Balanchine’s fun, raucous “Stars and Stripes,” a patriotic tribute to his adopted country, choreographed in honor of NYC mayor, Fiorella LaGuardia, to iconic Philip Sousa marching music.

I then came home and watched Randy Jackson’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” on MTV, which I’d taped. I thought it was a lot of fun — very different from the other dance TV shows. For people who didn’t see it, it’s all dancing — no singing, unlike “Dance War” and the groups have been working together for some time, so they’re familiar with each other and know what they’re doing. It appears that the judges give the groups a different song to choreograph to and they have to come up with something original in a short period of time. The crews with the two lowest scores have a dance-off in the end. But the dancing is really only hip hop with some breaking thrown in, so there isn’t a variety of styles, unlike SYTYCD. My favorite crew overall thus far is “Live in Color,” though I’m not in love with the name — too much like “Living Colour,” whose lead singer the lead dancer actually kind of resembles, with the mohawk (though the dancer’s hair is shorter than the singer’s was). I loved how that guy threw in those fouettes at the end (which one of the judges called “art spins” 🙂 ) Anyway, I’m expecting to write more about the show on my Huffington Post blog column, when it’s up (I’m thinking it got a bit delayed by Super Tuesday). If it’s not up soon, I’ll write more about the shows here.


  1. Nice review! You make me wish I was out there to go to more events. By the way, saw your piece in the Huffington Post, got a Google Alert with it…great job!

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