Wielding Power

In January, when Christopher Wheeldon announced he was forming a new ballet company, he made quite a stir. The New York Times ran two articles on the subject within a week of each other. The British press covered the news prominently. "A minor earthquake," the Times called it; the Guardian reported a "shudder" heard "in every major ballet house across the world."

Along with the feverish metaphors came alarmist speculation. Was the 34-year-old Brit a reckless gambler to give up his post as resident choreographer for the New York City Ballet? Or, instead, would his new troupe be so immediately successful that it would siphon off precious funding and poach all of the great dancers in ballet? Should City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre be watching their backs?

These questions won't be answered when Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company makes its New York debut at City Center from October 17 to 21. (The troupe premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival in August and will perform at Sadler's Wells in London in September.) At this early stage, Morphoses is still a pickup company with no permanent members.

Borrowed Light
Tanja Ahola
Borrowed Light

It is, however, one hell of a pickup company. Great dancers are indeed participating: Darcey Bussel and Jonathan Cope from the Royal Ballet, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn (Britain's Ballet Boyz), Anastasia Yatsenko from the Bolshoi, and New York's Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, and Ashley Bouder. Though Morphoses is not yet a true ensemble, its performances promise to be the dance event of the fall.

And not just because of the guest performers. The real star is the one not dancing: Wheeldon. His announcement garnered the attention it did because he's the most talented and acclaimed classical choreographer now working. For years now, many people's hopes for the future of ballet have been pinned upon him. Thus, when he says he's starting a company-—a fairly regular occurrence in the dance world—the act gets compared to Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein founding City Ballet or Diaghilev forming the Ballet Russes.

The main interest of Morphoses' initial performances will be new Wheeldon works, a handful of them, supplemented with a few older ones, plus dances by William Forsythe, Michael Clarke, Liv Lorent, and Edwaard Liang, all new to New York. The event should also provide some hints, not available in all the advance press, of what Wheeldon might be like as a first-time artistic director—the tone of the evening, how the pieces work together.

Wheeldon has already talked a lot, as all artistic directors must, about attracting the young. Yet he has an advantage others do not. His best works demonstrate, without pandering, that the classical idiom is still alive, still capable of saying new things. Dancers, who tend to be young themselves, sense this—need to sense it—and that's what draws them. Critics sense it too, so much so that it seems perfunctory when they point out Wheeldon's faults. If having a company of his own helps Wheeldon make young audiences sense it, a lot of press hype is a small price to pay. Ultimately, as Wheeldon told The Evening Standard, "it will work or it won't. Nobody will be dead."


Martha Graham Dance Company
September 11–23
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., 212-242-0800


Still beloved, still beleaguered, the 80-year-old troupe returns to the Joyce with three programs focusing on some of Graham's more dependable creations. In the latest of artistic director Janet Eilber's attempts to provide audience-orienting context, dance luminaries such as Susan Stroman and Jacques D'Amboise introduce the works.

'Fall for Dance'
September 26–October 6
City Center, 135 W 55th St., 212-581-1212


City Center's bargain-priced sampler series—just $10 a seat—is the city's quickest, cheapest introduction to the international dance world. Spreading 28 companies across six programs, the lineup includes everything from the Kirov Ballet and Paul Taylor to up-and-comers like Keigwin and Company to total unknowns like the Minneapolis tap troupe 10 Foot 5.

Cloudgate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
October 2–7
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100


A potent blend of martial arts, tai chi, modern dance, ballet, all things Eastern and Western that are graceful and flowing, Lin-Hwai Min's choreography can be ravishing. In Wild Cursive, his dancers attempt to evoke the expressive swirls of Chinese calligraphy. The task shouldn't trouble them.

Donna Uchizono Company
October 9–13
Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W 19th St., 212-924-0077


A maker of smart, elegantly structured dances, Uchizono presents Thin Air, which juxtaposes the separate worlds of individual minds against the connective, emotional charge of touch.

Pamina Devi
October 9 through 14
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., 212-242-0800


Sophiline Cheam Shapiro's fine Khmer Arts Ensemble—32 strong and a minor miracle of cultural preservation— translates Mozart's Magic Flute into the courtly language of classical Cambodian dance and music.

Yupiters at the butoh parade
Junichi Matsuda
'Kazuo Ohno 101: Butoh Parade'
October 9–27
Japan Society, 333 E 47th St., 212-832-1155


Celebrating its own centennial, Japan Society marks the 101st birthday of Kazuo Ohno, one of the founders of the butoh aesthetic, with a three-week festival of that austere form. Participants include Akira Kasai, Kochuten + Akaji Maro, and Eiko & Koma, and festivities conclude with a marathon of U.S. butoh artists and a rare appearance by Ohno's son Yoshito.

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