an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Morphoses Falters

Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company / City Center, New York City / October 29 – November 1, 2009
MORPHOSES, Wendy Whelan and Andrew Crawford in RHAPSODY, photo by Erin Baiano.jpg

Christopher Wheeldon’s
Rhapsody Fantaisie

Photo: Erin Baiano

Three years ago, when Christopher Wheeldon left the security of his position as Resident Choreographer at the New York City Ballet to form his own small company, Morphoses, his head was full of extravagant dreams about making classical ballet new for the 21st century. He even fulfilled some of them. But the economic downturn has thwarted his progress. Ballet companies, no matter how modest in scale, cost major money, and donors are feeling poor these days. Which brings us to the nagging question of whether or not Morphoses is really worth saving–at all costs, so to speak.
The full article appeared in Voice of Dance ( on November 4, 2009. To read it, click here.


  1. Martha Ullman West says

    As usual an interesting and very well-written review, which gives much food for thought. I’ve never seen Morphoses, but I have seen some of Wheeldon’s work–Oregon Ballet Theatre dances his “Rush” with considerable commitment, and I think it is an example of choreography that DOES cohere by virtue of its transitions. It’s the exception in the work I’ve seen, however. I quite loved Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals,” which is in NYCB’s rep, but mostly because of the conceit that made it unique, a child trapped in the Museum of Natural History after hours. That resonated with me, since I spent some after hours time in that museum myself, not alone, I hasten to say, but with my playmate Catherine Bateson; her mother was a curator. It was still spooky. But that ballet is a series of unconnected episodes and I wished for a unifying principle in the movement itself, which was sketchy, apart from the narration.
    The obvious answer to the question of why Wheeldon wants his own company rather than being an itinerant choreographer, apart from ego–and as acclaimed as he has been as the savior of ballet since Balanchine went to the great studio in the sky, I have found him remarkably lacking in self-aggrandizing ego–is that he wants a consistent group of dancers to work with. At least that’s Trey McIntyre’s reason for founding his own company. I think both, however, are discovering that running a company can interfere with making work, in a major way. But artists of every stripe have courage and in good times and bad they do make work and for that alone one must commend them, or at least I must.

  2. Kathryn Posin says

    Thank you for wondering if Morphoses is worth saving. There are many choreographers who struggle to mount one work with a company. We have studied the craft with Antony Tudor, Louis Horst, Merce Cunningham (yes, he taught choreography), Hanya Holm, and Anna Sokolow. We work in ballet. Maybe Morphoses needs to be a collective curated by someone like you. Maybe Mr. Wheeldon could be one of these choreographers and learn from them, as they from him.

  3. Christopher Atamian says

    This summer I witnessed a rather befuddling Morphoses-Martha Wainwright collaboration in which Wainwright’s music and Christopher Wheeldon’s (and Edwaard Liaang’s) choreography were often at odds: the former soulful, hard, angry; the latter light, unemotional, and often strangely out of sync. Say what you may, but it is hard not to groan when a rock singer is belting out an Annie Lenox song while ballerinas pirouette en pointe in the background and make absurdly choreographed upper body movements. Or when they end a piece accompanying Tears of St. Lawrence holding lighted electric bulbs in the air above their heads in unison (read: stars in the sky) as if they were in a lowbrow musical number. Granted Wheeldon is trying to be inventive and to think out-of-the-box, but his ideas are sometimes scattered and lacking in gravitas. Truth be told, I think that it would behoove him to stick to classic(al) ballet. Yes, other choreographers such as Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris (think of the brilliant Hard Nut) have successfully “crossed over” and choreographed both ballet and contemporary pieces set to rock, jazz, and classical music. It’s possible that Wheeldon may simply have outsized ambitions. Unless a choreographer has a colossal talent with a particular knack for multimedia presentations and mixing genres, I think that ballet choreographers should stick to ballet and modern/contemporary choreographers to modern/contemporary dance.
    (Some critics—like Chicken Littles—have been crooning that ballet is dying since at least the 19th century, but there are actually wonderful choreographers today. Alexei Ratmansky comes to mind, and, on a smaller scale, people like Miro Magloire who does a lovely job of setting short exquisite ballets to composers as diverse as Giuseppe Tartini and Karlheinz Stockhausen. In any case, I am curious to see what Morphoses does next and what direction Wheeldon’s work takes.)

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

an ArtsJournal blog