Question: Why are you so passionate about dance?
Wheeldon: Dance is a universal form of communication, and it doesn’t matter what language you speak. Everyone kind of understands certain aspects of movement. I think for me, I grew up in a sort of theatrical family, so I was definitely headed for the theater, and I started taking ballet classes when I was pretty young. I was seven years old, and I saw it on TV, and it just appealed to me. I don’t really know why. I guess I liked the costumes, and it was actually a ballet that had chickens in it, so I remember, “Oh, maybe it would be cool to be a chicken.” That’s kind of a strange thing, I know. And it’s an amazing thing to be able to hear music and kind of, I guess, be able to translate that music through physicality, and then somehow make that translation seem resonant to a viewer, to an audience member, and that’s kind of what drove me from becoming a dancer to becoming a choreographer. That sort of desire to somehow move people or transport them somewhere through this, you know, fantastic, unspoken art form. I describe sometimes choreography like a way of visualizing or painting music for an audience. Quite often you can take a really complex piece of music that you might sit down at home or, you know, turn on the radio and hear as being very sort of rhythmically complex or atonal, or not particularly attractive to the ear, and you take a piece like that, and you start to sort of sculpt it using bodies, and it can become really accessible to an audience that way.
Question: How is your process unique?
Wheeldon: I don’t really use my choreography to sort of announce any kind of political agenda, or, you know, what I do is really try to create escapes for people, to create a world that can be challenging in whatever way, but ultimately is kind of beauty through movement and music. I guess my process, some choreographers like to work on themselves. You know, they go into a room, and with a particular idea and some music, and they work on the material on steps, on their own bodies, and then call dancers at a later date, and kind of work with them, and shape it onto them. I prefer to do it directly onto the dancers themselves. I find kind of standing in the room staring at myself in the mirror pretty uninspiring, whereas if I’ve got two really beautiful people, or four, or six, or eight really beautiful people that often my interaction with them is the starting point, or the catalyst for, you know, how the work develops.
Recorded on: 5/22/08