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Christopher Wheeldon on Ballet's Swan Song

Question: Ballet's Swan Song?

Wheeldon: Dance will always be around. It's so much a part of human nature. I mean, we don't exactly live in the kind of society where dance is a part of everyday life in the way that, you know, you go to an African country or even still, you know, in parts of southern Spain with the Gypsies and the Flamenco dancers. Dance is in their blood, it's in their, you know, it's the way that they communicate with each other. That's not something, that's not a part of the life that we're involved in, I mean, in everyday life, I mean. It's in our blood, and we communicate with it daily in the studio, but it’s not a way that you can sort of communicate with society in general. But dance will always be there on some level. Ballet, I don't know. Ballet I fear for a little bit, because ballet is becoming more and more about revivals, it's becoming more of a museum art form, and part of the reason is young choreographers today are far more drawn to working using a more contemporary dance vocabulary. So that worries me, because I'm a ballet choreographer, and I actually like that crazy, weird point shoe thing, because for me, that's what makes a ballerina so interesting. It makes the body so strangely sculptural, and changes the musculature of the way a woman looks when she dances. You know, the weight distribution is completely different from when you're on flat foot and when you're on your heels. Suddenly you're perched on this tiny little piece, basically pieces of paper and glue, you know, piled on top of each other, and somehow when the body's on that thing, on that strange point, the musculature, the look of the body changes completely, and it's a beautiful poetic vocabulary to work with. It's just, I guess there's less demand for it, and so young choreographers are drawn to working in, you know, flat shoe, and that frightens me a little bit.

Question: Are you fighting the modernization of ballet?

Wheeldon: I mean, in some ways, I guess I am kind of rebelling against the trend of being, you know, opting for a slightly more kind of generic form of — I don’t mean to say that contemporary dance is generic, because it’s not. When it’s really good, it’s absolutely fantastic, and can often be very, very powerful, and I admire a lot of contemporary choreographers. But there is a slight danger of everybody kind of heading in one direction, and I think that that ultimately can be dangerous for ballet.

Recorded on: 5/22/08

The renowned choreographer fears that ballet is doomed to be an artifact.

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