Will Morphoses succeed without Christopher Wheeldon? It was the question of the evening last night at The Joyce Theater during the company's first performance since their celebrated founding artistic director left.
For Morphoses' post-Wheeldon premiere, executive director Lourdes Lopez brought in Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti to set an hour-long work on the company. And it looks like Veggetti felt the pressure. With Bacchae, he tried so hard to prove this was a company of the future: There was already a dancer onstage moving as the audience arrived; once the house lights went down, the piece began with a marionette rathen than a human dancing; a motion capture soundstage reflected the dancers' movement with odd noises; there were even dancers speaking into microphones in the audience. But all of these things felt like a haphazard bag of tricks with no other purpose than to break up the monotony of the choreography. Don't get me wrong: There is something beautiful about Veggetti's movement quality. It kind of looks like a delicate plastic bag being pulled along by a river. But everything is so smooth and suspended that your eyes can't help glazing over after a few minutes.
Or so I thought, until Frances Chiaverini began to dance. All of a sudden I could see the dynamics in the movement. It became interesting and original. She was so completely in control of her body in every moment; each gesture was made with precision and focus. When Chiaverini was onstage, it almost looked like a different ballet. The other performers were all talented, both technically and artistically. But Chiaverini brought the piece to an entirely new level.
The Morphoses I saw last night bore little resemblance to the company that premiered in 2007. But if they can keep attracting dancers like Chiaverini, they'll keep attracting audiences—even without a celebrity director.