Wheeldon doubles-down in Southern California events of fascination

Photos by Reed Hutchinson/Los Angeles Ballet

It’s a veritable festival of choreography by the Briton Christopher Wheeldon in the next weeks in Southern California. Neatly, the presentations will all spool under the watchful eyes of female artistic directors, Melissa Barak at the Los Angeles Ballet and Susan Jaffe at American Ballet Theatre. That fact alone is marvelous.

One of the most respected choreographers in the world, Wheeldon began his training as a dancer at The Royal Ballet School and joined The Royal Ballet in 1991. In 1993, he joined New York City Ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. He was named NYCB’s first Resident Choreographer in July 2001. Since then, he has created and staged productions for San Francisco Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet, The Mariinsky Ballet, The Paris Opera Ballet and Hamburg Ballet. Mr. Wheeldon has crossed over ~ receiving Tony Awards for Best Choreography for An American in Paris and MJ The Musical.

First up is the Los Angeles Ballet in An Evening of Christopher Wheeldon (and by that they mean an evening of his ballets!), a nearly twenty-year-old troupe. The three works include:

Ghosts presents a realm where ethereal beings manifest in a shadowy playground. As passengers onboard a doomed ship at sea, the dancers express emotions through their movements, contrasting feelings of hope with those of longing, as they realize their journey is now a quite different one. The music is by C.F. Kip Winger

Fool’s Paradise suggests the atmosphere of an enchanted forest as in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a work that inspired Wheeldon even as a child. Wheeldon notes, “There’s a definite sense of place, a definite atmosphere, a kind of magical aura that hangs over the stage.” The music is by Joby Talbot.

Morphoses to music by György Ligeti is a complex, athletic ballet for four dancers. Each couple presents a pas de deux requiring both flexibility and lyricism. The choreography then returns them to their opening formation as a united, breathing organism.

Note to Los Angeles Ballet: always … but particularly in single-artist programming like this, it is helpful to include the creation/premier year of works — a paradigm the film world has long since adopted for movies.

And then a really big event is the U.S. premiere of Wheeldon’s new Like Water for Chocolate, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County. Based upon the memorable movie dating from 1992 and steeped in the culture of Mexicanía, the work had its world premiere by The Royal Ballet, in a town where the Mexican food doesn’t compare to ours. Co-presented by the Segerstrom Center and ABT and overseen by Artistic Director Susan Jaffe (who inherited the project from Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s former A.D.), this three-act work is set to an original score by Joby Talbot and inspired by Laura Esquivel’s best-selling novel of the same name. A family saga set in 19th-century Mexico, it tells the story of Tita, a young woman overwhelmed by a sense of duty and family tradition, unable to marry until her mother dies. This ballet about food features a lot of slender people who barely eat it! The opening night cast at Segerstrom includes Cassandra Trenary and Herman Cornejo dancing lead roles. The live music comes courtesy of the superb Pacific Symphony.

We wouldn’t miss either show, and wish all the dancers great success in connecting with audiences. For that is what it is all about.

An Evening of Christopher Wheeldon | Los Angeles Ballet | The Broad Stage | March 16 – 18

Like Water for Chocolate | American Ballet Theatre | Segerstrom Center for the Arts | Mar 29 – Apr 2

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