BWW Reviews: WENDY WHELAN/ RESTLESS CREATURE at The Joyce
In "Restless Creature," which premiered last Tuesday at the Joyce Theatre, one dancer cultivated, curated, and performed duets with four young male choreographers in an attempt to discover the transformation of the body in disparate collaborations. Such an experiment might seem self indulgent if this dancer weren't Wendy Whelan, perhaps America's most acclaimed ballerina.
Opening the program was Alejandro Cerrudo's "Ego et Tu," set to music by Richter, Philip Glass, Gavin Brynards, and Olafur Arnalds. Cerrudo executed movement with a breakdance-like frictionlessness. His hypnotic swirl of arms was perhaps too synthetic for the textural actions of Whelan. In composition, the forms constructed by the pair become numbing and seemed developed in devised actions, rather than articulate perspectives.
In "Conditional Sentences," choreographed by Joshua Beamish, with music by Bach, this fluid execution was maintained, but with a charming tango personality and, perhaps, a breath of ballet inserted within it. Beamish knew best how to extend the contemporary ballet world to this famed ballerina. In one of the piece's poignant movements, Whelan and Beamish found their way to the floor. The explorations of this quiet moment with the dancer displayed her soft angular delicacy with new intimacy. Pianist Rachel Kudo accompanied the dance while holding a balance of precision and charm.
Kyle Abraham's "The Serpent and the Smoke," with music by Hauschka and Hildur Guonadottir Music, opened in a haze, with Mr. Abraham entering almost in a shadow. His movement, still drenched in the dark of the dimly lit theatre, was nearly violent in its ferocity. Lighting Designer Joe Levasseur, here with his first real chance to play, took great advantage of this movement. Whelan entered a world wholly new from the illusionist dance forms. This work craved a forcefulness of spirit, which was well married with deconstructions of the pas de deux.
The final piece, and the most meditative work of the evening, was Brian Brook's "First Fall," performed with stirring dedication by the Bryant Park Quartet. Under the backdrop of Philip Glass' composition, he explored free fall as Wendy Whelan tumbled upon him, and he slowly drew her up. Rather than using sleek illusion to distract from internal anatomy, the dancer's innermost joints and tendons were displayed with texture. More a choreographic development than composition, the dancers became united less in their controlled actions but in unmitigated gravity.
Whelan's ambition to explore contemporary dance is certainly sincere and worthy of praise. That she would venture to cultivate the works of young choreographers proves she has an eye for the development of the art form at its very heart. Perhaps her flexibility in contemporary aesthetic doesn't match her far ranging capabilities in ballet. Yet this should not dim excitement for her experiments with these choreographers.