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Guggenheim Museum - Peter P. Lewis Theater
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Christopher Wheeldon, Ruben Toledo, Isabel Toledo— Exerpts from "Commedia"

by Lori Ortiz
March 11, 2009
Guggenheim Museum - Peter P. Lewis Theater
Works & Process
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128
212-423-3587
Morphoses— Choreography and Design
For Christopher Wheeldon, bringing the audience in for a closer look at his family-like company is just normal. He introduced his first City Center season with a video of his Morphoses company debut at Vail. The subject of this March 10, 2009 presentation, though, is not Morphoses but Wheeldon's collaboration with Isabel and Ruben Toledo. It is the famous fashion designers' first foray into dance decor. The mission is Wheeldon's "Commedia," set to Stravinsky's "Pulcinella Suite."

In the W&P format, personality is front and center. Wheeldon's style is very informal. He seemed beside himself on stage in his choreographer role. He worked with Beatrix Stix-Brunell, a young student who told me she had never performed with a company. (W&P patrons can cavort with the artists in a catered after-reception.) Rory Hohenstein and Washington Ballet dancer Jonathan Jordan were wonderful to watch with Stix-Brunell. She had a challenge, and an opportunity, to work with fine professionals. Hohenstein is especially impressive. He undulates his entire torso, not just the upper part. He also happens to be a fine partner. Fans of the Balanchine style will marvel at how Wheeldon expands the men's roles.

Musicality isn't Wheeldon's strongest point and some passages in the excerpts are uninterestingly symmetrical. The doubled duets are too on-the-beat. But this is a work with kinks to iron out.

Wheeldon uses symbolic gestures that come from, for example, classical ballet and disco. Finger pointing supports Pulcinella's buffoonery, but his use of arm twiddling looks arbitrarily applied. This classical ballet call-to-dance comes across as a decorative flourish.

Later Hee Seo and Cory Stearns from American Ballet Theatre join, completing the pick-up group. The dancers are an unusual mix of abilities and backgrounds. Seo is lovely to watch, though she is too vertical for the Wheeldon feeling. When her arms rise out to her sides and circle, she is like a bird in flight, a bluebird possibly. She is small and extremely light. Except for her audible pointe work, she carried us into a stratosphere overhead.

Having recently seen polished commedia dell'arte reduxes from Douglas Dunn, Alexie Ratmansky, and Complexions, watching home video clips of Wheeldon's rehearsals and Australian tour felt too basic. Morphoses has evolved. I look forward to seeing, in finished form, what's been added to the legacy of commedia.

George Steel, now with the New York City Opera, moderated with a fraction of his usual wit. This W&P did not immediately lift us out of financial or other woes. Apologies if it's just me! Have we been spoiled by recent, actual full-fledged theatrical and dance productions from Works & Process?

Isabel and Ruben Toledo were illuminating. Ruben's philosophical discussion about applying the paintings to the dance set was a highlight. "The drawing aspect is always there," he said. He never looked at the audience, thus, it was difficult to fully glean the wisdom. The pair have a first-timer's enthusiasm along with their highly developed sensibility. No doubt, in October at City Center, the décor will be exciting. Ruben wisely used professional scenic artists to transfer his design to the actual set pieces. On the backdrop and proscenium-like drop curtain, a crowd of sweetly hysterical faces looks out at us with mooning eyes.

The dancers begin in vibrantly colored capes and outerwear, including tulle. They gradually strip off gloves and masks, dancing in white unitards with a few black diamond-shapes. Isabel's meticulous labor over the placement of those harlequin patches results in costumes that move, visually, with the body. When most successful and alive, the black shapes mark the impetus for the dancer's twists and turns.

The collaboration is obviously a fruitful one.
(l-r)Drew Jacoby, Christopher Wheeldon, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Ruben Toledo, Isabel Toledo

(l-r)Drew Jacoby, Christopher Wheeldon, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Ruben Toledo, Isabel Toledo

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano


Jacoby, Toledos

Jacoby, Toledos

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano

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