ECKET — In the five years of its existence, the chamber-size contemporary ballet company Morphoses has lived up to the ephemerality of its name, with varying results. The unevenness of the world premiere of “Within (Labyrinth Within)” at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival suggests that the group is still trying to regain its footing.
The company’s brief Sturm und Drang-filled history includes a reported falling out between its cofounders — the talented choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and the former ballerina Lourdes Lopez, now Morphoses’ director — resulting in both the exit of Wheeldon and the company’s new model of engaging a series of visiting resident artistic directors.
“Within (Labyrinth Within)” is an hourlong work of dance and film created by this year’s resident artistic director, the Swedish dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg. The parenthetical part of the piece’s title refers to his 2010 short film, featuring Giovanni Bucchieri, New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, and Lidberg. The film by itself is a small masterpiece, and is shown in its entirety after the evening’s beginning section of live dance and film.
Lidberg and director of photography Martin Nisser staged and shot the film from a variety of angles; the splicing, looping, and layering of scenes is riveting, creating a hallucinatory claustrophobia. Ambient noise — a ringing phone, keys scraping a desk — augments David Lang’s haunting score for cello. There is no dialogue, but the three dancers speak volumes in a purely physical film noir that depicts a possibly cuckolded man (Bucchieri) and his increasingly frantic quest for proof.
Whelan, as always, is fascinating to behold: unique and architectural, moving with sharply geometric articulation. The camera stalks her as she shifts from coolly regal, well-heeled wife to lover abloom with ecstasy. As her paramour, Lidberg is fleeting and secretive, adding to the overall mystery. We don’t know if the passionate affair is real or if the husband — Bucchieri makes him believably wrenching, an austere man spinning out of control — is suffering from paranoid delusions.
The lovely, intimate duets are fluid and slippery, the dancers’ limbs and torsos twining and rolling with ease and abandon. The camera flies in, detailing caressing hands and etched inner thighs, then away, showing expansive, breathtaking lifts.
Alas, though the live section of “Within (Labyrinth Within)” has many promising moments, its overall effect is that of a meandering work in progress, ultimately failing to add context and connection to the whole. The two segments would have been better served as separate entities. Indeed, in this first portion, Lidberg shows a canny aptitude for blending live dance with film. Four dancers join him, and on-screen dancers mirror or trail their onstage counterparts to evocative and ghostly effect. At times the filmed doppelgängers loom large; sometimes they recede like figures in memory. Lidberg’s seamless movement quality is deployed here, too: Duets, trios, quartets, and quintets form and dissipate like soft clouds on a breezy day. But with the exception of a gorgeous, charged duet between Frances Chiaverini and Adrian Danchig-Waring, the dance begins to feel splintered and repetitive.
After the fragmenting of this company in its own short past, we’re still hoping and waiting for Morphoses to land, whole again, on solid ground.