How Christopher Wheeldon’s company, Morphoses, is chipping away at it.
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/