Breaking the Fourth Wall

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.

  • Transcript


Question: What are the biggest challenges facing your company?

Wheeldon: I think finding ways to open up the art form to a broader audience without compromising the integrity of the art form itself. That’s one of the things that I think all artistic directors in the ballet world struggle with these days, is how do you pull in that audience? I mean, you can’t really just do, like the Joffery Ballet did. Years ago they made a full length evening work to the music of Prince, and they got the audience in there, but in the end was the work itself really something that was not only kind of pushing the boundaries of the audience that was attending the work, but actually pushing the boundaries of the art form itself? So it’s difficult to know how to balance that. I think that’s a big challenge. The work has to be resonant and powerful in its own right, and you market ballet in sexy clever ways to get people to come in, but if it’s not an emotional response that you get from the audience that’s going to make them want to come back, then it’s, you know, it doesn’t really matter how you package it.

Question: Does your company have an individual flavor?

Wheeldon: I think so.  I think we are, I mean we’re a very young company, and we’re not even fully formed, fully established yet.  There aren’t 20 Morphosis dances that I have at my disposal for, you know, 35 weeks of the year, and that’s the goal.  But I think so.  I think we already, from our season last year, have a reputation as being in some ways a friendly company, a company that you can come and see, and be offered a slightly different perspective, a different view point on the art form, and we do that in various ways.  You know, I try to come out in front of the curtain every night, and talk a little bit about what the audience is about to see, and I’ll be doing a little bit more of that this year.  We collaborate with filmmakers to make little shorts that we show between ballets, which can be a little snapshot of rehearsal, or a montage of the dancers preparing in some way for the roles that they’re going to dance.  By doing that, what we hope to offer is a little bit more insight into what it is that they’re going to see, again kind of linking that final performance with breaking down the fourth wall a little bit.  I mean, it’s somewhat of a cliché to say, but I think instead of it being, you know, them and us, somehow finding a way to link the audience to the work that they’re seeing, and, you know, it was great.  I got all sorts of comments from people who, not everyone can sit in the first five rows of the theater, so if you give them a short film of the dancers rehearsing the work that they’re about to see before hand, they get the opportunity to see the expression of the dancer, the faces, so when they see it, somehow they feel maybe they know a little bit more about that person that they’re watching, and it’s not just like a little tiny, glowing stick figure at the back of the vast stage.

Recorded on: 5/22/