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Flash Review 2, 1-5: Wheeldoning and Dealing
Extending the Balanchine Legacy

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

In "Polyphonia," which premiered last night at the State Theater on New York City Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon has done exactly nothing wrong. A suite of ten movements to short musical gems by Gyorgy Ligeti (played on piano by Cameron Grant and Alan Moverman), the dance skillfully extends the continuum of the Balanchine legacy. In fact, it is so successful that it veritably demands even more of the young choreographer, who is clearly gifted.

Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto led the cast. Whelan completely attenuated every gesture, not only because her physique basically diagrammed each movement like a how-to manual, but because she infused each step and gesture with a fullness and clarity that are incomparable within the company. Soto's pliable strength was a gentle, reassuring presence. I continue to find Edward Liang interesting to watch for his physical ideal and his vivid interpretation of the movement, which somehow seems quantitatively more alive and fully felt. The young cast also included Jennie Somogyi, Jennifer Tinsely, Jason Fowler, Alexandra Ansanelli, and Craig Hall.

The costumes, by Holly Hynes -- plum-palated leotards for the men and tanks, pink tights and pointe shoes for the women -- were simple and in keeping with the NYCB catwalk. The choreography directly utilized Balanchine's vocabulary, and while Wheeldon had the dancers venture toward the floor at times, it broke no stylistic boundaries. He made great use of Mark Stanley's lighting, employing silhouettes and angular movement to cast anthropomorphic hieroglyphs on the upstage scrim. His acute sense of musicality is, as well, right in line with Mr. B's sensibility. In a passage notable for its synchronization, a woman does an attitude turn whose follow-through is deftly caught by her partner. Wheeldon explores all manner of tempi and choreographic dynamics, including staccato sections, a concentrated waltz, spinning, and sculpted tableaux. (In one section, Whelan -- partnered by Soto -- takes on a table-like rigidity in an angular lunge on pointe.)

While City Ballet dutifully and proudly carries on the legacy of Balanchine, Wheeldon shows immense promise for the company's viability and artistic growth. Will it be enough to continue to choreograph basically within the safe harbor of an established vocabulary, or can Wheeldon balance innovation (even better, revolution) with conservatism and tradition? In any case, he is a spark of light at NYCB; that his future work is eagerly anticipated by both traditionalists and aesthetic rebels is cause for either concern or delight.

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