Posted in Review, tagged Ballets Russes, Boléro, Christopher Wheeldon, Commedia, Danielle Rowe, Drew Jacoby, Edwaard Liang, Edward Watson, Juan Pablo Ledo, Leanne Benjamin, Lucas Segovia, Melissa Barak, Morphoses, NYCB, One act, Pulcinella, Ratmansky, Ravel, Rory Hohenstein, Rubinald Pronk, Sadler's Wells, Stravinsky, Tim Harbour, Wendy Whelan on October 25, 2009|
1 Comment »
Morphoses dancers performing Commedia (via Sadler’s Wells YouTube channel)
Morphoses’ third London season has just come to a close. This year they came almost entirely depleted of their NYCB roster, something we lament since we cannot easily cross over the Atlantic to see that fabulous team at home. Nevertheless Morphoses remains a vibrant company providing the opportunity for an eclectic public to discover a mix of interesting dancers matched to new choreography.
The programme I saw, a tribute to the Ballets Russes and their collaborative spirit, opened and closed with captivating works. Wheeldon’s Commedia is a charming take on the carefree and playful world of the Commedia dell’arte to match Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite, a spoof on early eighteenth-century music. The simplicity of the set and costumes, the absence of a corps de ballet reminds us that Morphoses works on a tight budget, but Wheeldon compensates by displaying his gift for fluid choreography added to what is essentially classical dance vocabulary. Although one wishes certain sections of the ballet were expanded on, particularly the solo sections for razor sharp Rory Hohenstein and sparkly Leanne Benjamin, on the whole this is a piece that makes a long trip to Sadler’s Wells on a wintry evening well worth it.
So does Ratmansky’s Bolero, a fine translation into steps of Ravel’s music, also originally composed for The Ballets Russes. Three men (Juan Pablo Ledo, Edwaard Liang and Lucas Segovia) and three women (the always amazing Wendy Whelan, Melissa Barak and Danielle Rowe) dressed as athletes, gradually move from individuality to unison in response to the rising demands of the score. There are no set designs and, unlike the evening’s less strong middle section works, “Leaving Songs” and “Softly as I leave you”, no use of props to maximize dramatic impact. All the better to let the choreography speak.
Tim Harbour’s Leaving Songs was supposed to be about endings and beginnings but stayed in the middle, mixing classical phrases with usual modern moves. It did have one good thing going for it, in the shape and extensions of Rubinald Pronk. Pronk’s chemistry with his regular dance partner Drew Jacoby could also be seen in the next piece “Softly as I Leave You” (by husband and wife team Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon). Despite the recorded music and the overreliance on a wooden box for drama, there were luscious extensions and lifts as well as a sense of true intimacy between these amazing dancers.
At the start of the performance Wheeldon greeted us with his trademark introduction to the evening’s pieces. But before each section there were also short video extracts on the dancers and/or choreographers. Those videos are a great idea but would perhaps grab us more if screened at the start of the performance or as part of DVD extras. With their third season done and dusted, what is next for Wheeldon’s company? It seems that Wheeldon’s initial plans for a permanent company of 20 dancers are still faraway and the fact that the second circle had plenty of empty seats is worrisome. Is Morphoses going to continue focusing on abstract pieces à la Balanchine because of lack of funding? That would be a shame given Wheeldon’s strength in narrative pieces. I left the theatre thinking that Commedia would also have worked as a narrative one-act ballet and hoping that seasons to come will be able to deliver that sort of thing.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Ballet Companies, tagged Apollinaire Scherr, Ashton, Ballets Russes, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Boléro, Calvin Klein, Christopher Wheeldon, Commedia, Diaghilev, Edwaard Liang, Edward Watson, Forsythe, Francisco Costa, Isabel Toledo, James MacMillan, Judith Mackrell, Leanne Benjamin, Lightfoot Leon, Lourdes Lopez, Morphoses, Narciso Rodriguez, NY City Center, NYCB, Olivier Award, Paul Ligthfoot, Polyphonia, Ratmansky, Ravel, Roslyn Sulcas, Sadler's Wells, Sarah Crompton, South Bank Show Award, Sydney Festival, The George Balanchine Foundation, Tim Harbour, Vail International Dance Festival, Wendy Whelan on October 21, 2009|
2 Comments »
The Morphoses London Season opens tonight at Sadler’s Wells with a programme dedicated to 100 years of Ballets Russes, an appropriate choice for a company structured in the same way and whose mission to “broaden the scope of classical ballet through the creation of innovative productions and collaboration with the seminal artists of its time” ties in with the feats of Diaghilev‘s own legendary troupe.
Three years and many accolades on, Christopher Wheeldon‘s company continues to match some of ballet’s brightest stars to new work by the best choreographers and designers around. By nurturing these quasi pro bono collaborations, Morphoses projects the image of a fresh and accessible company whose main objectives are to target the 25-34 year old public not familiar with ballet and to challenge some of the preconceptions associated with the art form.
As part of Wheeldon’s target demographic, we think the existence of a company like Morphoses sends a very positive message, a promise for the future of ballet. Its mission strongly resonates with us as we also believe ballet can and should be made accessible to younger generations while staying true to its traditions, with no dumbing down of the art form. We only wish their seasons were longer (only 4 days in London) and that we could see more of Wheeldon’s work this side of the Atlantic.
Wheeldon's Morphoses in Commedia. Photo: Erin Baiano © Source: Danceviewtimes
Morphoses in a Nutshell
Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company was founded in 2007 by Christopher Wheeldon, previously NYCB’s resident choreographer, together with Lourdes Lopez, ex-NYCB Principal and Former Executive Director of The George Balanchine Foundation. The troupe attracts dancers from major companies in the world who appear at reduced fees. The repertory is a mix of modern classics and new pieces created by Wheeldon or by guest choreographers, in collaboration with innovative designers and composers, very much in the spirit of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
Originally Morphoses would function as a pickup company, hiring dancers on a season basis until Wheeldon had secured enough financial backup (around US$5 million) to have dancers on a fixed payroll, but the credit crunch has forced the company to carry on with a small administrative staff of three and to remain at its donated Manhattan base for the present. Dancers continue to be recruited on a season-by-season basis while Wheeldon has kept working as a choreographer outside Morphoses, which allows him not only to continue staging big budget works for the major ballet companies, but also to bring in extra funds for his own Morphoses projects. His long term plan is to be able to support a permanent troupe of 12 dancers alongside the regular guests.
Morphoses’s inaugural performance took place at the 2007 Vail International Dance Festival. After a heavy media build-up, this first appearance received mixed reviews from the American press. Some critics thought the ballets in the programmes looked too similar, with too many abstract ballets (including pieces by Forsythe and Edwaard Liang) and prominently featuring too many pas de deux, but they generally praised Wheeldon for elevating the artistry in his dancers (NYCB‘s Wendy Whelan, often regarded as Wheeldon’s muse, was nominated for an Olivier Award) and for creating a rapport with the audience by coming onstage to introduce each piece with insightful commentary.
That same year Morphoses became a Guest Resident Company at New York City Center and at London’s Sadler’s Wells. Wheeldon was appointed as Associated Artist for Sadler’s Wells and the London season won a South Bank Show Award. Since then, Morphoses has also appeared at the Sydney Festival.
The Many Faces of Morphoses
Tyler Angle, Alexandra Ansanelli, Leanne Benjamin, Hélène Bouchet, Ashley Bouder, Darcey Bussell, Batkhurel Bold, Thiago Bordin, Alina Cojocaru, Jonathan Cope, Ángel Corella, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Jason Fowler, Gonzalo García, Marcelo Gomes, Craig Hall, Drew Jacoby, Johan Kobborg, Nehemiah Kish, Carla Körbes, Maria Kowroski, Edwaard Liang, Tiler Peck, Rubinald Pronk, Teresa Reichlen, Danielle Rowe, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Michael Nunn, William Trevitt, Edward Watson, Miranda Weese, Wendy Whelan
Composers James MacMillan, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich and Bright Sheng; Artists/Set Designers James Buckhouse and Jean-Marc Puissant, Adrianne Lobel; Designers Francisco Costa, Narciso Rodriguez, Isabel & Ruben Toledo; Director Nicholas Hytner
The inaugural programme presented in 2007 featured two new Wheeldon pieces – “Fool’s Paradise” and “Prokofiev Pas de Deux” – alongside his exisiting works “Mesmerics”, “After the Rain” and “Morphoses”. It also included William Forsythe’s “Slingerland”, Michael Clark’s “Satie Stud”, Liv Lorent’s “Propeller”, and Edwaard Liang’s “Vicissitude”.
The following year brought a mix of premieres led by Wheeldon’s “Commedia” (to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite), Lightfoot León’s “Shutters Shut” (at City Center) and Emily Molnar’s “Six Fold Illuminate” presented together with classic works by Sir Frederick Ashton – The Dream Pas de Deux (in Vail) and Monotones II – Robbins’s “Other Dances” and Wheeldon pieces “Polyphonia” and Fool’s Paradise”.
This year Morphoses brings a host of new works to both its transatlantic headquarters. It also continues to collaborate with influential fashion designers Francisco Costa (Creative Director of Calvin Klein), Isabel and Ruben Toledo. Commemorating the Ballets Russes’ centenary, the first programme will include Wheeldon’s “Commedia”, Ratmansky’s “Boléro” (to the eponymous Ravel piece) and a new work by Tim Harbour. Two days later, a second programme brings “Softly as I Leave You”, originally choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol León (resident choreographers of Nederlands Dans Theatre) for dancers Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk, in addition to old and new Wheeldon: “Continuum” and “Rhapsody Fantaisie” (a world premiere set to Rachmaninoff’s suites for two pianos).
Extracts of Reviews and Selected Praise:
One of the wonderful things about Mr. Wheeldon’s work is that there are new discoveries to be made each time you watch it. Roslyn Sulcas at the NYTimes [link]
Morphoses does have a provisional air. For the moment it remains an assembly of dancers, albeit extraordinary ones, from other troupes, and Mr. Wheeldon hasn’t yet had the opportunity to develop a group of performers to his own ends. But he is a choreographer with an instinctive grasp of dancers and their abilities…To see major ballerinas like Ms. Benjamin and Wendy Whelan on the same program is reason enough to watch Morphoses. Roslyn Sulcas at the NYTimes [link]
Trained on Balanchine, most New York ballet critics absorb meaning and sense syntactically, because with Balanchine it’s the action between the notes–the syncopated rhythms–that shape the steps and their portent. With Wheeldon, the ballet’s color and emotion may be rooted in the score, but the organizing principle is visual. Apollinaire Scherr at Foot in Mouth / ArtsJournal [link]
Wheeldon has set his standards about as high as a new company could aim for. We can really look forward to what follows. Judith Mackrell at The Guardian [link]
It is an absolute pleasure to watch this group of top-rate dancers running through their paces in this way. With ages from the teens to the over-forties, in all shapes and heights, they are so full of personality and presence that they make this a most uplifting evening. Sarah Crompton at The Telegraph [link]
Sources and Further Information
- Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company Website [link]
- The Newcomer by Joan Acocella. The New Yorker [link]
- Metamorphoses by Astrida Woods. Dance Magazine, October 2008.
- Ballet without Borders by Peter Aspden. Financial Times, September 2008. [link]
- The dancers are Young, Beautiful, Sexy and Smart by Valerie Lawson. The Sydney Morning Herald, November 2008. [link]
- How to watch a Wheeldon ballet by Apollinaire Scherr. Foot in Mouth at ArtsJournal, October 2008. [link]
- Risky Business by Gia Kourlas. Time Out New York, October 2007 [link]
Read Full Post »
Posted in Ballet History, tagged Ballet Exhibitions, Ballet History, Ballets Russes, Books, Clement Crisp, Diaghilev, In the Spirit of Diaghilev, Ismene Brown, Morphoses, Sadler's Wells, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on October 19, 2009|
2 Comments »
First of all, I am a great charlatan, although one of brilliance; second, I’m a great charmer; third, I’ve great nerve; fourth I’m a man with a great deal of logic and few principles; and fifth, I think I lack talent; but if you like, I think I’ve found my real calling — patronage of the arts. Everything has been given me but money — mais ça viendra. Sergei Diaghilev, in a letter to his stepmother.
Ballets Russes stamp. Source: Wikipedia
The centenary celebrations of the Ballets Russes continue worldwide. Here in London Sadler’s Wells Theatre has a week bookended by them. In the Spirit of Diaghilev having just finished its run, Morphoses now prepares to take over with an opening programme featuring works inspired by the legendary Diaghilev company.
The Ballets Russes’ first appearance at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 18 May 1909 marked not only ballet’s ressurection in the West, but also its upgrade to a serious art form, no longer an antique resting on the laurels of the great Romantic era, no longer an appendix to opera. The fact that the Diaghilev troupe had been profoundly affected by political change in Russia made the art they created relevant, topical. Ballet was finally considered “cool”, an art that spoke and was spoken of, that was not afraid to experiment with subject matter and style.
We could go on forever trying to expand on why the “entire ideal of classical ballet in Western Europe and the rest of the world acknowledges a debt to Diaghilev” (from How to Enjoy Ballet, by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp), trying to imagine what the ballet and, more generally, the arts landscape would be like today had that pivotal Paris season never taken place. Diaghilev’s presence in the West set a chain of key collaborations, incubations and inspirations which were instrumental in the evolution of classical dance. That landscape would have certainly been less vast without him, as we can see in the “family tree” below:
While it would be difficult to draw a comprehensive chart of Diaghilev’s influence on Western ballet, we hope this sketch can give a flavor of the historical importance of this legendary man & his company
- Diaghilev’s Theater of Marvels, curated by Lynn Garafola (now closed) [link]
- From Russia with Love – Costumes for the Ballets Russes 1909 – 1933 (ongoing) [link]
- Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the V&A (opening 2010) [link]
- Diaghilev: A Life, by Sjeng Scheijen. Reviewed by Bee Wilson for The Sunday Times [link]
- Ballets Russes: the Stockholm Collection. Absolutely wonderful book of archival costumes and designs [link]
On UK TV
- Ballets Russes related programmes on BBC Three and Four [link]
Sources and Further Information:
- Wikipedia entry on the Ballets Russes [link]
- Dancing with the Stars, a review of 3 Ballets Russes related exhibitions by Alexandra Anderson-Spivy [link]
- Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes: a century of sensation, by Judith Mackrell [link]
- How to Enjoy Ballet by Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp [link]
Read Full Post »
Posted in Dancers, tagged Adeline Genée, Alastair Marriott, Ashton, Christopher Wheeldon, Clement Crisp, Coppélia, Cranko, David Dougill, Debra Craine, Edward Watson, Gloria, Infra, Jonathan Cope, Judith Mackrell, Juliet, Leanne Benjamin, London Festival Ballet, Macmillan, Mary Vetsera, Mats Ek, Mayerling, Morphoses, Neumeier, Ninette de Valois, Onegin, Peter Schaufuss, Principal Dancer, Prix de Lausanne, ROH, Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet School, Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, Sir Peter Wright, Swanilda, Tatiana, The Firebird, Wayne McGregor on September 10, 2009|
5 Comments »
Leanne Benjamin. Source: ROH © Copyright belongs to its respective owners
As we stare at the Royal Ballet’s new season, what better way to start than with the company’s veteran, Leanne Benjamin, who has danced for 17 years now and is still going strong. One of their most accomplished Principals, Leanne is ready to impress the crowds with her portrayal of the minxy Mary Vetsera in the opening night of Mayerling.
With all the physical wear of tear caused by the profession, few ballerinas can be on the rise well into their forties, but this is exactly the case with Leanne Benjamin. Her technique is still solid and having been blessed with a cooperative physique, she has managed to keep growing thanks to old-fashioned hard work and discipline (she is known for rarely having missed class) and to a well-thought out choice of repertoire.
These attributes and the fact she carries on excelling at full-length roles such as Juliet, Manon and Giselle have won her the admiration, not only of younger colleagues but also of bright modern choreographers such as Kim Brandstrup, Alastair Marriott, Wayne McGregor and last but not least Christopher Wheeldon (Leanne guests in his company Morphoses) for whom she is always on demand.
For all of Leanne’s consistency and longevity as a performer it is surprising that her name is not as recognizable for the occasional ballet goer as that of some younger Principals. Her recent Giselle was full of depth and the MacMillan heroines suit her immensely: few can match the intensity of her Mary Vetsera (Mayerling), the complexity of her Manon, her metamorphosing Juliet. Leanne can leap from mighty Firebird to more contemporary works, where she displays luscious extensions and a pliant body, and yet she remains very much a connoisseur’s ballerina.
Leanne Benjamin as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling. Photo: ROH © Source: Danser-en-france
Leanne Benjamin in a Nutshell
Leanne was born in 1964 in Rockhampton, a small city in Queensland, Australia. To keep her busy, her parents signed her up for ballet at age 3, where she trained under the guidance of Valerie Hansen. During her childhood years she never put too much work into becoming a ballerina and it wasn’t until her sister Madonna entered the Royal Ballet School (RBS) that she felt she was up for the challenge. Two years later, aged 16, she followed her sister’s path and joined the class of 1980, at the same time as Royal Ballet’s Répétiteur (and former Principal dancer) Jonathan Cope.
Training with Nancy Kilgore and Julia Farron, Leanne won the Adeline Genée Gold Medal in the same year she joined and the Prix de Lausanne one year later (1981). She caused such an impression dancing Giselle in her graduation workshop that both Ninette de Valois and Peter Wright offered her a contract to join their companies (respectively, The Royal Ballet and the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet – nowadays the Birmingham Royal Ballet).
Thinking she would have more opportunity to dance soloist roles at the SWRB, Leanne accepted Peter Wright’s offer. She joined them in 1983 and bolted through the ranks to become a Principal in 1987. A hard worker who admits she needs the right conditions to perform at her best, Leanne thought at that point she needed a change, with more time to focus on individual performances and decided to go work for Peter Schaufuss who at the time directed the London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet).
The Festival Ballet’s focus on high technique was the perfect environment for Leanne to flourish and take on new roles such as Juliet in Ashton’s Romeo & Juliet and in Tetley‘s Sphinx. In 1988 Schaufuss left LFB for Deustche Oper Berlin, taking Leanne with him. But she would not linger in Berlin for too long, accepting in 1992 an invitation from Kenneth MacMillan to join the Royal Ballet as a first soloist.
Leanne’s light jumps and long extensions (even though she is 1.57 m = 5 ft 2), along with solid interpretations of MacMillan’s female leads and other complex roles in general were a perfect match for the Royal Ballet’s theatrical style. She says she is a perfectionist and that she creates these roles by letting herself go with the music and reading the other dancers’s reactions to her own interpretation.
As she matures she has become more motivated by one-act ballets and new roles created on her by some of today’s most renowned choreographers. She singles out her role in The Firebird as one of her greatest physical challenges but motherhood, she says, has been the biggest challenge of all and she considers herself very lucky to have been able to go back to her career and continue to bloom.
Leanne has been partnered by many great dancers, but her more recent partnership with Edward Watson holds a special place in her heart. Watson has acknowledged Leanne is helping him become a better partner and it is clear they have a great deal of admiration and respect for one another. Their chemistry is evident, especially when they are dancing in MacMillan or modern pieces.
Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson in rehearsal. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH © Source: Balletanddance
Leanne has said in various occasions that she would have loved to dance Tatiana in Cranko‘s Onegin and perform more of the Neumeier repertoire or, like many dancers, Mats Ek pieces were it not for the fact that a toe joint problem prevents her from dancing off-pointe (and soft shoes are a given in Mats Ek’s choreography).
As for the future, she has mentioned that she is not interested in choreographing and is more likely to pursue various interests outside dance.
Browsing through the YouTube maze, we found a number of videos which display Leanne’s wonderful musicality and versatility
Extract of Reviews and Praise
Of her role as the second soloist in Balanchine’s Emeralds
Leanne Benjamin found her own poetry in the dreamy cross-currents of Balanchine’s choreography; the slight hesitancy that dragged at her quick, bright jumps, the way her body yielded to gravity against the vertical lift of her leg both creating a paradoxical illusion of light and float. Judith Mackrell at The Guardian [link].
Of her Giselle
Benjamin, that gently brilliant dancer, that true mistress of her art, offers us a Giselle of illuminating physical and emotional grace. We see a delightful peasant girl whose madness is delineated with rare sympathy: deliciously clear dancing, an anguished pose, a heart-tearing moment with Albrecht’s sword, tell all about her. An exquisite pas de bourrée and the gentlest shaping of her torso, summon up the wili. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]
She has been dancing the role for years but I can’t imagine she’s danced it better. Her peasant girl is bashful but eager, her dancing warm and graceful, impulsive too. The shock of her lover’s betrayal sparks a mad scene that’s effectively theatrical without being overwrought…A dreamy Benjamin, with the quietest pointe shoes and the slowest adage I’ve seen in Giselle, captures the “here-not here” allure that so confounds Watson’s passionately grieving Albrecht. Most important, there’s a real dramatic connection between the two of them that makes their story come alive so vividly, and there’s never a moment when their emotional intentions aren’t absolutely clear. Debra Craine at The Times [link]
Of her Firebird
Leanne Benjamin was superlative, never allowing the drama of the long, exhausting opening pas de deux to relax for an instant. Now in her mid-40s, Ms. Benjamin is a completely compelling artist dancing with the technique to be expected of someone half her age. Alastair Macaulay at the NYTimes [link]
Of her role in Alastair Marriott‘s recent Sensorium (read our review here)
The pas de deux are more inventive — Leanne Benjamin, such a compelling artist, can make any material she tackles look significant, even when it isn’t very. David Dougill at The Sunday Times [link]
Of her Manon
Leanne Benjamin and Johan Kobborg are among the finest in these parts: technically in complete command, so that every nuance, peak and twist of emotion is clear and eloquent, without impediment. Together, they take one’s breath away. David Dungill at The Sunday Times [link]
Of her Mary Vetsera in Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling
Benjamin is sensational, metamorphosing from innocent child into reckless lover. With her astonishing physical spirit and wild, unfettered emotions, she embodies everything MacMillan’s choreography stands for, a Mary so dangerous that no reason can contain her. It’s all there in Benjamin’s gorgeously fraught dancing. Debra Craine at The Times [link]
Of Ashton’s Rhapsody
On Monday, Rhapsody was gloriously danced by Leanne Benjamin (unfailing musicality, brilliancy of step, a cascading pas de bourrée like beautifully matched pearls). Clement Crisp at The Financial Times [link]
Leanne Benjamin’s Upcoming Performances at the ROH
- Mayerling (Mary Vetsera) 8/14 Oct 2009
- Romeo and Juliet (Juliet) 15 Jan/6 Feb 2010
- New Watkins/Rushes – Fragments of a Lost Story/Infra 19/26 Feb 1/2/4 March 2010
Booking for Mayerling, part of the ROH Autumn Season, already open. Winter Season public booking opens 20 October (Friends of Covent Garden priority booking opens 22 September).
Sources and Further Information
- Leanne Benjamin interviewed at the Ballet Association. By David Bain with report written by Graham Watts. Ballet.co magazine, December 2007. [link]
- Late Bloom is Simply Child’s Play. Leanne Benjamin feature by Peter Wilson for The Australian, November 2008. [link]
- Leanne Benjamin Feature in Dance Europe July 2009.
- Leanne Benjamin: Royal Ballet’s fearless young ballerina by Marilyn Hunt. Dance Magazine, April 1995. [link]
- Wikipedia Entry for Leanne Benjamin [link]
- Leanne Benjamin at the ROH website [link]
- Pas de Deux: Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin on The Firebird. By Chris Wiegand. The Guardian, May 2009 [link]
Read Full Post »