When six couples come on stage at the start of Christopher Wheeldon's Rhapsody Fantasisie, it is an arresting an image as anything Wheeldon has choreographed before. The women were carried horizontally from the wings like human crosses over the stage. In vermilion jersey dresses and blunt-edged harem pants on the men, Mary Louise Geiger's cold lighting seemed to turn the dancer’s skin tones to a deathly pallor against the bright reds of their costumes (designed by Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa). If these were sentinels of the underworld, or ghosts perhaps, Wheeldon's characteristically individual choreography gave them the death-mocking vivacity of pulsing blood.
It is Wheeldon's arrangement of his dancers in intricate tableaux mixing refined with blunt and even perverse shapes that keeps us engaged. Similarly his smaller couplings are full of the unexpected. When Wendy Whelan and Andrew Crawford enter for their pas de deux, Whelan's head is cupped in Crawford's hand and is gently pushed like a ball, where it bounces back up and down, the figure is repeated back with Crawford’s head. This interplay, both odd and delightful, is mirrored by Rubinal Pronk’s entrance where is partner’s head seems to bounce on his puffed up chest a movement he mirrors on hers. These moments are full of play and seem to say that, no matter how serious or high art the enterprise, just below the surface is a delight in movement where bodies can bounce off one another like helium-filled balloons. Pronk, by the way, is a man to watch, a Dutch dancer of feral grace whose body is closer to liquid mercury than flesh and bone.
Fancisco Costa's costumes and artist Hugo Dalton’s projected sketches of dancer’s faces, bodies and hands are collaborations which Morphoses celebrates, harking back to the great Ballet Russes and Diaghilev’s explosive melding of avant garde musical and artistic talent. It’s impossible to imagine such combinations today causing the controversies of hundred years ago. In fact, there is something so slick and seductive about Wheeldon’s work and his creative partners, that he’s thus far producing a chic aesthetic that satisfies the super-refined tastes of the New York and London balletomanes. As a dance populariser, a role which he'd like to claim, we'll just have to wait. But as one of the aforementioned balletomanes, he needn't hurry.