The fuss was worth it
Vail, CO, Colorado
Sometimes, watching dancers makes you want to move. And sometimes they strike you still. Friday’s debut of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, a long awaited event and the crown jewel in the newly invigorated Vail International Dance Festival, left the audience dazed and joyous, and not just a little bit thankful.
“Wheeldon is unbelievable,” said Avon resident Joanne Morgan. “When you’re watching ballet, you’re watching the choreography. And you usually know what’s going to happen. But Wheeldon never repeats anything. You never know what he’s going to do next. The man really is a genius.”
Wheeldon’s a hot topic in the dance world. He created quite a stir when he decided to create his own company, which will enable him to have more artistic control in his work. All eyes are on him as he endeavors to broaden the breadth and scope of ballet’s audience, hopefully bringing what he calls “the iPod generation” into theaters. That sort of thinking is right in line with Damian Woetzel’s, the festival’s artistic director. The two are good friends, which is how Vail lucked into being the site of the company’s world debut. And the residents of Vail acknowledged the favor by turning out en masse to watch.
“I was mightily impressed on so many levels,” Susan Gruber, another Avon resident, said. “I really want to write a letter of thanks to both Christopher and Damian. We’re so lucky to have them here. I like how un-stuck up they both seem to be.”
A graphic designer, Morgan has taught ballet locally for 27 years. She echoed Gruber’s sentiments.
“I can’t wait for next year,” said Morgan. “Damian is amazing. He’s not elitest, and he doesn’t try to make things more complicated than they need to be. This festival just might become the best in the world.”
The program opened with Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia,” a piece he choreographed for New York City Ballet in 2001. Accompanied by live music perfectly played by pianist Cameron Grant, it set the tone for the entire night. The chemistry between the dancers and the audience was palpable.
The second act included three pieces: two works in progress, commissioned by Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, which will be officially debuted next month, and a piece choreographed by Edwaard Liang. Liang’s “Vicissitude” was the only one on the program not created by Wheeldon; he was obviously carefully chosen as his dance, set upon Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, was a natural, organic part of the night. As with much of Wheeldon’s work, there was a sense of longing conveyed through the dance.
Wendy Whelan, Aesha Ash, Craig Hall and Gonzalo Garcia danced what’s been dubbed “New Wheeldon” ” the choreographer himself explained to the audience he can’t name a piece until it’s finished. Created on the stage of the Ford Amphitheater, in addition to other rehearsal spaces throughout the valley, during the 10 days leading up to the performance, the work was an exercise in beauty and revelation.
“Personally, I read the dance as a collaboration,” Gruber said. “His dancers wanted to honor him, and his choreography so honored his dancers.
“I wanted to be one of his dancers,” she added.
As with the Prokofiev Pas de Deux, danced by Helene Bouchet and Thiago Bordin, the lack of costumes (they wore rehearsal clothes) accentuated the dancers’ bodies. They moved in ways that ought to be impossible but seemed so natural. All of the dancers in Friday’s performance conveyed a sense of being at ease in their own skin, despite the 3,200 eyes watching them.
“Can you believe what we’ve got in this valley?” asked Morgan. “Bravo!, with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra, arguably the two best in the world, playing in Vail. And now we have Christopher Wheeldon debuting his dance company here? We’re lucky there are a lot of people with means who appreciate the arts and enable them to come here.”
Even those who attended Wednesday’s behind-the-scenes performance at the Vilar were unprepared for the wallop packed by the closing act, “After the Rain.” Three couples commandeered the stage, dancing in and out of each other. In what seemed a natural absence from the stage, Whelan and Hall actually changed costumes. He returned bare chested and she wore only a leotard, her hair hanging down her back. There was no barrier between the audience and the performers; it seemed almost a dream sequence.
Up on the lawn, Gruber and her friend had a prime view of the stage ” and the surrounding audience. “I noted how silent the audience was,” she said. “It was a magical moment in time. It doesn’t happen so often that artists can create something that really moves people, really touches your soul and your humanity.”
But it happened Friday. And since Wheeldon has committed to return for next year’s festival, it will certainly happen again.