I’ve heard a lot of great things about Wendy Whelan. The New York Times underlined her reputation as “America’s greatest contemporary ballerina” and Clement Crisp wrote yesterday in the Financial Times that he had admired her “sophisticated musical sensibility” and “vivid physical presence” for more than two decades. Unfortunately, her current programme at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre is a real disappointment.

© Christopher Duggan
© Christopher Duggan
Under the umbrella title of Restless Creature, the programme showcases Whelan’s collaborations with four dance artists – Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Alejandro Cerrudo and Brian Brooks. The result is a selection of duets, performed by Whelan in turn with unfaltering energy – particularly impressive considering she is 47 – which lack choreographic innovation and interest.

The only exception is the evening’s final work, First Fall. Choreographed by Brooks, it features two dancers interlacing arms and bodies whilst circling and spinning around each other. The couple swoops under each others’ limbs, moving fluidly and continuously, the momentarily held lifts the only brief pauses. From this swirling emerges a very different movement quality and partner relationship. Falling repeatedly backwards onto Brooks, Whelan is entirely reliant on him to cushion her descent to the ground. He also props her up in other positions, supporting her body weight as she walks – relatively nonchalantly – around the stage. Interestingly, First Fall felt less like a meditation on female dependence and more like an exploration of the desire to support and be needed. The lights went down as Brooks’ movements became increasingly lethargic and minimal, and I was left pondering on this thought.

The other three works used a more generic contemporary vocabulary which failed to inspire. In Cerrudo's Ego et Tu, there was nothing to dislike but equally nothing that really grabbed my attention.

© Christopher Duggan
© Christopher Duggan
Beamish danced beautifully in Waltz Epoca (with particularly brilliant movement articulation), but his fragmented segments of choreography made it hard to engage with the piece as a whole. The accompanying music was similarly incongruent, with sections of classical strings contrasting with electronic sounds and even the chimes of a clock.

Abraham’s The Serpent and the Smoke commenced with he and Whelan holding each other and slowly extending into various positions. To a range of electronic music by Hauschka and Hildur Gudnadottir, it reached a sudden end before, it would seem, choreographic ideas had been fully developed.

A principal with New York City Ballet (until October when she gives her final performance with the company), Wendy Whelan has a boyish figure and rather rigid movement quality that suits contemporary work. In Restless Creature, she makes precise and attractive bodily shapes, but is missing – in my opinion – a sense of passion and connection with the audience.

© Christopher Duggan
© Christopher Duggan
As this is my only experience of Whelan, I can only hope that she will return to London in the future. With a more engaging programme of work, perhaps I will have the chance to experience those dazzling skills that so many others have enjoyed.