Friday, November 9, 2012

Morphoses—Pontus Lidberg Glides from Stage to Screen

Jens Weber, Pontus Lidberg, Gabrielle Lamb, and Wendy Whelan (in film). Photo by Christopher Duggan
Morphoses* is at the Joyce performing Within (Labyrinth Within) through Nov 11. The hour-long work is half live performance, half film, with connecting sequences in both realms. These segues sometimes show the live dancers reflected in an on-screen mirror, and other times as echoed images—a bit confusing, conceptually, but visually captivating. And that becomes a minor problem, the domination of the filmed image projected on a large screen. It unintentionally diminishes the live performance, not terribly unlike how screens of all sizes—from tiny phones to big flatscreen tvs—relentlessly demand our attention. All of it is done to David Lang's darkly flavored, sub rosa score.

The dancers (on Nov 7, Gabrielle Lamb, Laura Mead, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Jens Weber, and Lidberg) are all superb. They skillfully interpret Lidberg's style, which favors floor work and a muscular taming of gravity. In an opening live solo that repeats in a sequence filmed in the woods, Lidberg freezes in a plank position, then flips instantly onto his back, going from complete control to helplessness. Legs plant firmly while the upper body releases lyrically. It's grounded in balletic structure but, in socks or bare feet, more fluid and organic. 

Pontus Lidberg in the film, Labyrinth Within. Photo: Martin Nisser
Several engaging duets lead up to the main feature, the film from 2010, Labyrinth Within, featuring a romantic triangle between Wendy Whelan, Giovanni Bucchieri as her husband, and her paramour Lidberg, who directed and choreographed. Martin Nisser directed the photography, with art direction by Magdalena Walz, both of which are first-rate.  The settings alternate between the woods, a beach, the husband's office, the couple's house (a stripped-down, wooden facsimile of Versailles, near Stockholm), and the connecting streets. The pale, silvery Northern European light evokes the that in the films of Lidberg's fellow Swede, Ingmar Bergman. 

Whelan's very different relationships with her tightly wound husband and Lidberg are told only through movement. These passages blend seamlessly with functional actions to create a unique form of storytelling devoid of language. It is somewhat reminiscent of the structure of Matthew Bourne's work, particularly Play Without Words, which hews more along the basic form of a musical theater performance, in part because he creates full-length works. But Lidberg has an appealing signature choreographic style, a sharp eye, and the skills for working in different media—all reasons to keep watching him closely.

* My original opening follows, but its mere existence prompted me to move it to footnote status. Next time, maybe it will disappear: 
It may never be possible to mention Morphoses without recounting its initially triumphant, often frenetic  history. To summarize: founded by Christopher Wheeldon as a vehicle for his and other choreographers' repertory, which it performed for a couple seasons before Wheeldon departed. ED Lourdes Lopez established the position of resident artistic director—first Luca Vegetti, then Pontus Lidberg. Now that Lopez has become artistic director of Miami City Ballet, Morphoses, such as it is, has followed her there. As she said recently, it may become the experimental arm of MCB. There are worse fates for such an initially ambitious collective and who knows—maybe it will finally get the institutional support that has been so elusive. But it won't be a revolutionary major independent ballet company. 
In many ways it fulfills some of the mandates that many new companies promise, and perhaps these innovations could only have been possible given the company's brief, tortured history. Wipe clean the slate and start again, especially if the results are as intriguing as Within.


JaneJS said...

Actually the opening filled in a few blanks for me, thx!

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