Contemporary Ballet at the Granada

Sensational British Choreographer Wheeldon Impresses Audience

A ballet company for the 21st century, Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses travels more like a ballet circus from another planet, with a trio of pianists, a set that includes a box the size of a closet, and dancers who are strictly out of this world. The dancers of Morphoses took the Granada by storm on Friday night, offering three full hours of spectacular entertainment that just happened to also be strictly constructed classical ballet. The impish and buoyant Wheeldon even had enough energy to come out and take questions from the audience afterward, flanked by outstanding dancers Andrew Crawford and Alison Roper.

Drew Jacoby in Lightfoot León’s “Softly as I Leave You.”
David Bazemore

The great service that this company does the world of dance today involves establishing a sense of the ideal. Perhaps this is why Wheeldon has such good luck recruiting top dancers for a company that doesn’t even have a theater or a consistent lineup. It’s a privilege for a dancer to be called into this situation, and it shows in every number. The opening piece, “Continuum,” gave us nearly 40 minutes of incredibly tight and focused recent choreography by Wheeldon, all of it set to live piano accompanists playing the music of composer György Ligeti. Flawless execution, extraordinary style and grace, and a great many surprises kept everyone in the packed theater deeply engrossed in this sprawling introduction to Wheeldon’s choreographic universe.

After a short intermission and the receipt of mountains of flowers, the dancers were back for the evening’s most arresting number, Lightfoot León’s “Softly As I Leave You.” Beginning and ending in an onstage plywood box, this dance to familiar recorded music by J. S. Bach and Arvo Pärt very nearly stole the evening’s thunder away from the main attraction. A lingering pas de deux conducted in silence and replete with exquisite upper body control elicited gasps of mixed sensual pleasure and disbelief from the balcony. It was followed by a peppy, non-clichéd rendition of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, choreographed by Wheeldon’s contemporary Alexei Ratmansky.

The long final work, “Rhapsody Fantaisie,” which was danced to the live accompaniment of two pianos played by Julie Steinberg and Betty Woo, took Rachmaninoff’s music and exploded it into what seemed like millions of ideas, all expressed in vigorous and clearly choreographed movements. Wheeldon tends to split his men and women apart into separate cadres, only to let the tension build into a passionate climax when the sexes reunite. This time, it occurred in the magnificent duet “La Nuite—L’Amour,” danced by Crawford and Roper.

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