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Smoke, Serpents, Conditional Sentences & First Falls | Wendy Whelan “Restless Creature”….

June 8, 2015
Wendy Whelan performing Alejandro Cerrudo’s "Ego Et Tu." Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Wendy Whelan performing Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu.” Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Wendy Whelan is at an age when many dancers are retiring from the stage but at 47 she is just as active as ever. She retired from New York City Ballet after a most impressive 30 year career. She mastered Balanchine’s neo-classical repertory, danced classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake as well as working closely with Jerome Robbins on many of his ballets. She also originated featured roles in 13 ballets for Christopher Wheeldon, as well as in the ballets of William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor, Jorma Elo, Shen Wei and Twyla Tharp.

So to say Ms. Whelan career has been stellar would be a grand understatement. Since her departure from NYCB she has recently launched the Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative of which Restless Creature is the first work the Project has produced. Restless Creature had its New York Premier May 26-31, 2015 at the Joyce Theater.

Restless Creature is made up of four duets in which Ms. Whelan is performing in each duet.

Each dance is a duet in which Ms. Whelan is joined on stage by the the choreographer. The program includes Kyle Abraham’s The Serpent and the Smoke; Josh Beamish’s Conditional Sentences; Brian Brooks’s First Fall; and Alejandro Cerrudo’s Ego Et Tu.

The evening opened with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Ego Et Tu. Mr. Cerrudo is the resident choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Before this work I had only seen his Pacopepepluto, a rather fun trio for three men set to crooning of Dean Martin when Hubbard Street performed at the Joyce in 2013.

Unfortunately the choreography, for me felt, contrived, too thought out. The choreography was instilled with awkward transitions that made me want to ask why. It’s not a bad work but rather I felt if needs to be poked, prodded and polished which will occur as the work matures…or I least I hope….

Joshua Beamish & Wendy Whelan performing Joshua Beamish ‘s "Conditional Sentences." Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Joshua Beamish & Wendy Whelan performing Joshua Beamish ‘s “Conditional Sentences.” Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Josh Beamish’s Conditional Sentences set to Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor was akin to a flirtatious minuet that been updated for the age of information and instant gratification. Bach’s composition, performed live by Rachel Kudo on piano, lent such a delicious element/layer to the work.  It was light and quick with the choreography airy. Both dancers were dressed in gray slacks and red sleeveless tops. The was something, perhaps the general air of the work, the light hearted tongue-in-cheek approach to not only the choreography but the statement being made that reminded me of some of the lighter works by Jiri Kylián. It was fun and I would enjoy seeing it again.

But, the pièce de résistance for the evening was the haunting duet created by Kyle Abraham, The Serpent and the Smoke. Now I have to be honest, I love Kyle Abraham, as a person I think he is wonderful…but with that said, I have to admit having a love/hate relationship with his choreography. I think he has shown moments in his career that can only be described as inspired genius.  The Serpent and the Smoke is one of those moments, but, alas, I have also seen works of his where I just scratch my head and wonder what he was thinking. Now, in Mr. Abraham’s defense…we come from two distinct and different generations…& I acknowledge that my sometimes not getting Mr. Abraham’s work is that I am not a member of the hip-hop generation and honestly not that familiar with it…(…does that make me sound old or what…)…

Kyle Abraham & Wendy Whelan performing Kyle Abraham’s "The Serpent and the Smoke." Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Kyle Abraham & Wendy Whelan performing Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and the Smoke.” Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

For The Serpent and the Smoke, Mr. Abraham seems to unfold out of darkness, he moves into the light with his arms undulating in a manner as if arms had been replace with serpents. The back wall is exposed which solidifies the abstraction of thought found in the piece.

The Serpent and the Smoke is not a lineal work, but must be seen as it is without any preconceived notions. There is a surrealism of statement that can only be expressed via the archetypes found within the human condition and Mr. Abraham, much as did Martha Graham, has pulled them to forefront our consciousness, laying them bare before us.

Kyle Abraham & Wendy Whelan performing Kyle Abraham’s "The Serpent and the Smoke." Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Kyle Abraham & Wendy Whelan performing Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and the Smoke.” Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

There is a rareness to the choreography and that is way Mr. Abraham has melded the cerebral and the emotional elements. Time and space is nonentity. At times the choreography is introverted; as if Ms. Whelan and Mr. Abraham have crawled so deeply into their own psyche they now struggle to find a way back to their physical and conscious realities. There are moments of intense passion but still you find startling moments of stillness and quiet.

Ms. Whelan meets Mr. Abraham, her posture at times more insect like than human. Her focus is often inward/meditative/reflective those allowing Mr. Abraham to the weave the dance around her like a web. She is both participating and confined, working with in a predefined set of variables that strangely both inhibit and frees her at the same time.

Kyle Abraham’s The Serpent and The Smoke is the one of the most genius works I have seen in a while. . .I say BRAVO to all involved!

I am not really familiar with Brian Brooks’ work, why I have no excuse except that I have not been exposed to it before. I must say that after seeing his duet with Ms. Whelan First Fall I will make a concerted effort to see more of his work.

He began the dance in a slow stately manner, I at first failed to see where if anywhere he was going. That changed quickly. Mr. Brooks first actions, which I had failed to grasp was the defining of his dialogue with Ms. Whelan. His work, First Fall, is just that, attempting to protect or soften Ms. Whelan’s falls in life.

Brian Brooks & Wendy Whelan performing Brian Brooks’ "First Fall.”  Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Brian Brooks & Wendy Whelan performing Brian Brooks’ “First Fall.” Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Brian Brooks’ First Fall is a very interesting work and that is about all I shall say about it for the moment because it is a work of such depth I would be doing an injustice to any attempt to discuss the work till I have seen it again….and I hope I do…

I commend Wendy Whelan on her new venture and am greatly looking forward to her second project, which will be a full program of new works, choreographed for her and Edward Watson, principal dancer for The Royal Ballet of London. The program will be performed in the UK and the US.

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