Morphoses

At New York City Center on Wednesday, October 17.

Mild disappointment is so disheartening. You don’t get to be angry or disgusted, no ranting, no nasty barbs, just the sheepish regret of having set expectations too high. I had been so excited about choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s new company. His work is nearly always among my favorites on the New York City Ballet’s programs, and even when I’m not sure I like a piece, it fascinates me and lingers in my memory.

So the premiere of Morphoses was a letdown. There were lovely, charming moments, of course—Wheeldon’s pas de deux are intricately entwined, and he creates beautifully striking tableaus with his ensembles—but nothing on the program seized me. Nothing left me breathless. Nothing (ahem) made me eager to write.

Take the opening work, “There Where She Loved,” which alternated between the songs of Frédéric Chopin and Kurt Weill. The stylistic differences between Chopin and Weill are considerable, yet Wheeldon didn’t really make use of the obvious contrast. Instead, the whole thing was a repetitive, thematically clichéd paean to heterosexual dysfunction: cruelly aloof, treacherous men partnered with passive, anguished women. It got kind of dull.

“Tryst Pas de Deux” was more enjoyable, if mainly for the treat of seeing Darcey Bussell come out of retirement. I didn’t much care for James MacMillan’s unmelodic white-noise of a composition, but Wheeldon’s choreography was deliciously twisty, unmistakably balletic yet too sensual and acrobatic to feel staid.

“Dance of the Hours,” created for last season’s production of La Gioconda at the Met, was cute, endearingly blithe in its refusal to take itself too seriously (which is good, because I can’t hear that music without seeing dancing hippos and ostriches and crocodiles in my mind’s eye, thanks to Disney’s classic Fantasia). The poor girls in the ensemble didn’t have much to do, but the energetic soloists, Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia, held my attention with their spirited steps.

The program concluded with a new work, “Fools’ Paradise,” set to swooning (if somewhat monotonous) music by Jody Talbot. Certainly the dancing was gorgeous. Wendy Whelan, who played Wheeldon’s Nightingale in his most recent work for the City Ballet, was among the soloists, and she was particularly compelling, with her impossibly long extension and eerie self-possession. The work felt uncanny somehow, suspended in space—it set a mood well, I’ll give Wheeldon that—but eventually that suspension started to feel listless, deflated. It had no spark.

That said, I’ll probably go see Morphoses again next time the fledgling company performs. I still love Wheeldon’s work for the City Ballet, and the caliber of dancers he attracts from around the world is truly remarkable. But I left the theater Wednesday night feeling almost cheated. The members of the company looked so excited taking their final bows, and I felt jealous because I didn’t get to share that excitement.