Internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company. A former dancer with The Royal Ballet and soloist with New York City Ballet (where he served as Resident Choreographer from 2001 to 2008), Wheeldon founded Morphoses in 2007 with the goal of introducing a new spirit of innovation to classical ballet by fostering collaboration among choreographers, dancers, visual artists, designers, composers, and others who can bring new life and perspective to ballet.
Born in Yeovil, Somerset, England, Wheeldon began his ballet training at eight years old and began studying at The Royal Ballet School at eleven. Wheeldon joined The Royal Ballet in 1991 and won the Gold Medal at the Prix de Lausanne competition that year. In 1993, Wheeldon was invited to become a member of New York City Ballet, where he was promoted to soloist in 1998. Wheeldon choreographed his first work for NYCB, Slavonic Dances, for the 1997 Diamond Project and, in collaboration with artist Ian Falconer, created Scènes de Ballet for the School of American Ballet's 1999 Workshop Performances and NYCB's 50th anniversary season.
Wheeldon was the recipient of the Dance Magazine Award and the London Critics' Circle Award for Best New Ballet for Polyphonia in 2005; a performance of the work by NYCB dancers received the Olivier Award. In 2006, DGV (Danse à Grande Vitesse) was nominated for an Olivier Award. Additional honors include the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center and the American Choreography Award.
Question: How did you arrive in New York?
Wheeldon: I was dancing with the Royal Ballet, I had just secured my contract coming straight out of the Royal Ballet School in London. A lot of the major ballet companies of the world have vocational schools attached to them, I had been a student at the Royal Ballet School since I was eight years old. So I had gone pretty much ten years through the same establishment with the goal of becoming a dancer with the Royal Ballet, and about, I’d say, six or eight months into my contract I sprained my ankle in a performance, which is about the worst thing that can happen to a young dancer who is aspiring to, you know, dance big roles, big, major roles in the company like the Royal Ballet. So I was sitting at home, my foot was up on the couch completely encased in ice, and I was watching TV, you know, as one has a tendency to do when you’re pretty much out of action for six to eight weeks, and a commercial came on TV for Hoover vacuum cleaners, and they were having this kind of special deal at the time where if you bought a particular type of vacuum cleaner, you could get a free round trip ticket to the United States, I think specifically to New York, and so I was, like, well, you know, I’ve got to clean, so why not? It just seemed like a pretty good deal, you know, 60 pounds for a new vacuum cleaner, and then you get, you know, three or four hundred dollars worth of ticket. So I limped out to buy my vacuum cleaner, and sent off my little coupon, and sure enough I got my round trip ticket to New York, and I flew out here really just to have a week’s vacation, but it was kind of towards the end of my rehabilitation program from the sprained ankle, so I called the New York City Ballet to see if I could take a class with them, partly out of interest. The big companies tend to have sort of an open door policy if you’re part of a major ballet company somewhere, you can usually write them a letter, you know, or give them a call and they’ll let you come in and take a company class. So I went into ballet class, and they were auditioning boys for a big upcoming festival, and suddenly at the end of my first day in New York, I had a job offer, which was just completely out of the blue, and now I look back on it, it’s, you know, it was definitely fate. So, yeah, I was like, “Well, I have a job and I haven’t even seen the Empire State Building yet.”
Recorded on: 5/22/08