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Oldies But Goldies: Martha Wainwright And Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company at Summer Stage August 14th, 2009: Hips Don’t Lie

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(This was a somewhat spectacular SummerStage evening and I was a huge Martha fan at the time, something I am much less so in 2015, and I was an even bigger fan of her Mom, the late great Kate McGarrigle, who was also here that night though I failed to mention it. That wasn’t the last time I saw Kate live on stage, but it was close to it -IL)

About a year ago I was at the Highline for a Martha Wainwright concert and up close she was like a shock of legs and a hip thrust against her guitar. It was as though she sang with her hips. I thought of that concert during the highlight of her collaboration with English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and his dance company Morphoses, a pas de trois to Wainwright’s “Bleeding All Over You”

The feat, a former resident choreographer of the New York Ballet, and an offspring of the Wainwright family dysfunctional picnic matching parts that shouldn’t, was filled with potential disasters (not unlike the relationships Wainwright sings about) and biggest of them was an interpretive artform made literal. However, the three dancers ritualized a deeply sensual and ritualized dance suggesting promise, promiscuity and loneliness and accented by Wainwright’s rhythmic thrust and condemnation. There is that in Wainwright which makes you want to admire her from awafr, she is too intense, her hands too bloody. The lead female dancer was superb, dancing into and out of the two men’s own, being held and being pushed away with all the rejection gushing out. It was magnificent and even more so because the very next song, “Love Is A Stranger” a relatively pedestrian rock and roll at the hopper dance, proved how difficult it was to sustain.

After the intermission there was a half hour dance called “Fools’s Paradise” by Wheeldon’s company -considered one of his masterpieces. Wheeldon seems obsessed with the fluctuation of bodies interacting, from one to another to another: the team of dancers go on and off and on the stage in a miasma of physicality. And I use the word team wisely, they seem so close, so tight knit, like a baseball team on a hot streak. It is engaging but tiring. They come and leave as extended couples and the closeness of an ensemble with no obvious star and youth too burn (Wheeldon himself is only thirty-six) gives a sort of Sophomoric bff vibe to the dancers; it feels as if they are living out a Wainwright lyric she didn’t sing: “I feel like I’m dancing for your love”.Ones, twos, threes, all together, off stage, back on stage, it is dazzling though I could’ve used more of the collab stuff. Wendy Whelan, who had danced just last week at the Vali, Colorado show, was missed but, the dancers were agile, athletic, very sexy. Here is a link to a great blog called Oberon’s Grove in which the blogger (Oberon? Grove?) writes about watching the rehearsal for the Summerstage show earlier this week. It is really good: http://oberon481.typepad.com/oberons_grove/2009/08/morphoses-martha-wainwright-wow.html

This and a mini-set by Wainwright that followed seemed to go against the grain of the first half where the reported reason for the evening to introduce young people to dance seemed to working. Wainwright sang her ode to her father “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” with extended “asshole…” coda” and I was amused to hear some people gasp with shock. It was fine, though Wainwright’s misjudged “Stormy Weather” with pianist husband Brad Albert was way to over the top: you don’t oversing stuff like this, stuff like this has been around so long we might wanna ignore the Great American Songbook for a coupla decades. It needs refreshing.

But Wainwright and Wheeldon had left the best for last. A specially commisioned seventeen minute piece written by Wainwright and directed by Wheeldon was an emotionally devastating meeting of minds: it was exactly what we had hoped for. Wainwright’s piece is excellent, called “Tears Of St. Lawrence” and written for her late Uncle, it is emotionally unsettlingly with, on the first hear, only occassional out of the many words lingering “fall to pieces,” “i’ve been roughed around”… The dancers in modern dance clothes -as though they are from rehearsal are magnificent. (Here is a list of their name (from the Oberon post): Maria Kowroski, Teresa Reichlen, Tiler Peck, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Gabrielle Lamb, Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet, Marcelo Gomes (yes, that Marcelo Gomes), Rory Hohenstein, Jared Angle, Gonzalo Garcia, Jason Fowler, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Edwaard Liang. i think it was Teresa Reichlen who performed to “bleeding All Over You” -a tall, extremely attractive, and eminently gifted dancer.) and the music is a jump at least as far as song construction is concerned for Wainwright.

It must be extremely difficult to write for dance while remaining true to yourself, Wainwright does it. The entire evening was a tribute to people working together and how the low brow rock culture and high brow world of a ballet share a common ground in the art of empathy.

 

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