Swinston will be one of the leaders of the Cunningham Legacy Plan, which was announced, with Cunningham’s somewhat ambiguous endorsement, early in the summer. The company is to be disbanded after a two-year tour; then the repertory will be passed on to dancers in other companies, so as to continue the dances’ performance life and presumably their ongoing transformation.
On Wednesday, there were no eulogies; the mood was upbeat. The crowd milled around the three stages, creating a performance of its own. Part of the poignancy, and the pleasure, of the “Event” was meeting so many dancers, Cunningham supporters, old friends, and associates gathered to honor the artist who dominated so much of what we’ve been engaged in all these years. You couldn’t help thinking about how age was treating the members of this fellowship, how wonderful it was to see them surviving the years, and how many young dancers had joined the throng of interested New York dancegoers.
It was almost 9 and the dancing had ended when Meredith Monk stood up in the balcony for the final musical number. She began to sing a wordless clear chant that rose and fell in intensity, with hesitations and long, dying-out appeals. The hall fell silent. She was calling to the spirits present and departed. I’m sure they all heard.
If the Cunningham company is approaching its conclusion, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company is nearing the conclusion of its debut. Choreographer/director Christopher Wheeldon started the company on a provisional basis. The dancers worked ad hoc, taking leave from their regular jobs when Morphoses had engagements, in the hope that enough big backing would be found to go permanent. Preparing his third season at New York City Center, Wheeldon sparked new speculation about an independent ballet company’s chances for survival. In a curtain speech before the opening on Thursday night, he was cautiously optimistic; he’s counting on the backing he’s had and the audience that obviously loves him to help him turn the corner.
Wheeldon is a great talent, but he sometimes looks like a more ordinary dancemaker. The first of two City Center programs left me with the same mixed reaction I’d had when the company was launched in 2007.
He saved his two new ballets for the second program, but Commedia (2008) was new to me. It’s based on selections from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, but instead of using the elaborate 1920 scenario of commedia dell’arte clowning and love intrigues, he made a plotless dance for nine nearly characterless players. And instead of letting his dance reflect Stravinsky’s changes in rhythm, tempo, and mood, he moved his dancers through different groupings, substituting cute gestures and tricky combinations for the surprise, wit, and drama that’s built into the music.
Wheeldon incorporated some new choreographic talent into the repertory, with uneven results. Leaving Songs (2009), by the Australian choreographer Tim Harbour, was a neatly organized group work about no less a topic than life and death. The ballet had more dynamic variety than Commedia, but it resorted to tricky duets and a motif of freaky undulating torsos. Translucent balloons got carried into symbolic lines and circles.