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.

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."

Previews

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

joyce.org

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

nycitycenter.org

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

bam.org

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

dtw.org

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

joyce.org

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.

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

japansociety.org

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.

Compañîa Nacional de Danza
October 16–20
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

bam.org

In recent years, Spain's pre-eminent troupe has been represented on these shores mainly by its junior company. This fall the varsity team graces BAM with two repertory pieces and one American premiere by its choreographer, Nacho Duato—vivid, sometimes garish dances completing a trifecta of sex, drugs, and castration.

James Sewell Ballet
October 16–21
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., 212-242-0800

joyce.org

This Minneapolis-based troupe has been around nearly two decades, but it's only in its past few visits that Sewell's distinctively imaginative way with the classical idiom has become fully apparent. The ensemble brings a dance to Schoenberg and an interpretation of opera arias during which one performer sings and dances.

American Ballet Theatre
October 23–November 4
City Center, 135 W 55th St., 212-581-1212

nycitycenter.org

In the spring, ABT parades its warhorses at the Met; in the fall, we get new works at City Center. This year, there's a Jorma Elo interpretation of Philip Glass's "Musical Portrait of Chuck Close," complete with sets by . . . Chuck Close, as well as a piece by City Ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied. Among other repertory additions, Merrill Ashley stages the ballet that Balanchine made to show off her speed, Ballo della Regina.

David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group
October 23–November 3
Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W 19th St., 212-924-0077

dtw.org

A deadpan humorist who uses downtown methods, Neumann crosses a dance performance with an athletic meet in Feed Forward.

Borrowed Light
November 7–8
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

bam.org

Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen's stunning treatment of Shaker culture comes to New York. Both austere and vigorous, the stomping, shivering dance works up great spiritual force, especially with the Boston Camerata singing live.

Alvin Ailey American
Dance Theater
November 28–December 31
City Center, 135 W 55th St., 212-581-1212

nycitycenter.org

The new stuff this season isn't much to look forward to: Maurice Béjart's numbingly obvious Firebird and a cliché-ridden strangers-on-a-subway debut by Camille A. Brown. And who knows what to make of Frederick Earl Mosley's Saddle Up!? It's a western. Still, it takes more than lame choreography to stop these dancers from looking like gods.

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