Wendy Whelan and Four Choreographers

2 Feb

S.F. Performances presented Wendy Whelan for her first performance in San Francisco in her post-New York City Ballet production and it was a full house. After the brief, no intermission performance of four pieces, the artists lined up, hosted by Christopher Stowell, who shared classes at the School of American Ballet with Whelan, for a Q and A. The two San Francisco performances constituted the first of what was to be an 11-site tour, weaving across the country in the grand old Columbia Concert series road tours. The original production of Restless Creature debuted at Jacob’s Pillow in 2013.

For Restless Creature, Whalen asked four young choreographers to create pas de deux in which they each would dance with her. Spanish-born Alejandro Carrudo, associated with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance since 2005, utilized the four composers Max Richter, Philip Glass, Olafur Arnalds and Gavin Bryars for Ego et Tu.. Joshua Beamish, relied on Johann Sebastian Bach as played by Glenn Gould for Conditional Sentences, created this year, apparently just before the tour commenced. Kyle Abraham’s The Serpent and The Smoke, created in 2013, used two works by Haouschka and Hildur Guonadottir. With Brian Brooks 2012 pas de deux First Fall to five pieces by Philip Glass, the program sans intermission was completed.

Apart from admiring the Whelan movement qualities, the looseness of the choreography was my dominant impression with snatches of overall attack; Carrudo’s faintly sinuous flavor; the insistent beat for Beamish’s composition; wonderful, low stretches and weaving patterns with Abrahim’s and the persistent falls Brian Brooks gave Whelan. She clearly gave her all to each movement form, enjoying the variety and honoring her partners, an egoless demonstration if ever I saw one, totally devoted to the work.

Whelan’s body is spare, as one might expect from a ballet dancer, but it also is remarkably square to oblong in its impression, with those amazingly free arms and legs which the choreography used to great advantage. The Whelan profile is handsome; a nose belonging to a family with some obvious ancestry, and a jaw giving evidence of durability. It’s a pity Balanchine never had the chance to work with her.

Rita Felciano remarked, “I’ve never seen so many people stay for post-performance comments.”

David Michalek, Whalen’s husband, served as creative director, the lighting credits belonged to Joe Levosseur and the modest costumes to Karen Young. The two performances, starting at 7:30 p.m., also constituted Whalen’s first visit to San Francisco. Hopefully it will not be her last.


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