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June 2, 2011 5:21 pm

Mercurial Manoeuvres, Lincoln Center, New York

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Mercurial Manoeuvres (on select programmes for the remainder of the season and in the autumn) was only Christopher Wheeldon’s second piece for the New York City Ballet. He made it in 2000, when he was in his 20s and still dancing with the company – and yet you would not mistake it for anyone else’s.

First, there is a wholeness of vision that encompasses the accessories to the choreography. The costumes’ primary colours mirror the exuberant score – Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with its puckish blasts of trumpet. Transparent vertical panels stretch from floor to ceiling, reinforcing the ensemble’s own uprightness and ephemerality: the corps moves like a forest of bare, spindly trees with stork-like legs for trunks. The 16 dancers create order and bustle, then scatter into the wings. Only the central couple leaves an indelible mark.

Wheeldon is perhaps most celebrated for his pas de deux – configurations so inventive that they spark enigma and feeling. On Wednesday, Wheeldon favourites Tiler Peck – always strongest and clearest in contemporary work – and a subdued Tyler Angle waited for the trumpet to leave the piano alone to brood before they entered from opposite wings. He, Angle, is upstage, she downstage. She is flanked by men, he by women. Both their heads droop forward as if they were nodding off to sleep – the ideal plane for this rendezvous.

They orbit the stage, with him carrying her aloft as she angles her limbs like the prongs of a star. Wheeldon intermittently arrests the flow of movement to etch their forms in the air and bring out the spaciousness they have found in each other.

The choreographer’s capacity to distil drama into image is astounding. More impressive still is the way he moves between drama and its abstraction. Peck and Angle touch fingertips, but they also convey their yearning metaphorically.

What Wheeldon had not yet figured out in 2000 is how to respond fully to a score’s vicissitudes. The bipolar concerto – and this one especially – does not make that task easy. Still, the solution is not to tune out the composer’s most rascally moments. And within a year – by the premiere of Polyphonia – Wheeldon knew it.  

 

NYC Ballet

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