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Reviving a Classic Art Form
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: Describe your dance company, Morphoses?
Wheeldon: I’ve been sort of the product of big companies, big ballet companies all of my career as a dancer, and for much of my career as a choreographer, and still, you know, benefit greatly from being asked to work for the Royal Ballet in London, or San Francisco Ballet, or the New York City Ballet, which is where I was based for many years. I think part of it is borne from the desire to want to help my art form in a way become more accessible, perhaps more resonant to a younger generation. It is a classical art form. Classical art forms tend to be given sort of the stigma of being, you know, dusty and old fashioned, and, you know, I’ll admit that it is hard in many ways for ballet to be relevant to, you know, to a younger generation because there’s so much other stimulation out there that, you know, who thinks to buy a ticket to go to the ballet to see Swan Lake? It’s not exactly always the kind of music that young people listen to, so I guess with most of this what I’m trying to do is find ways to break down some of the barriers, retrain the beauty and poetry of a very classical art form, and to also combine that with elements of popular culture, finding interesting music to use that might be a little bit more resonant with a younger audience member, working with fashion designers to design costumes, getting my dancers kind of out there in a way so that the public can get to know them, because I think often there’s this mystery, there’s this maybe perhaps this preconceived idea that dancers are in some way aloof, and not young people of today, and it’s kind of crazy, because they are. Like, basically they’re 18 to 28, 30 year olds, who are, you know, really great, smart, beautiful kids, yet they do this thing that kind of elevates them to this strange mystical plane that people are a little bit afraid of, and often they don’t go to the ballet, because they think, “Oh, well, I don’t understand this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think.” So part of what we’re trying to do with Morphosis is to try to encourage people that it’s not about necessarily having to always understand what it is that you’re seeing up there. It’s just about kind of surrendering yourself to watching something really, really beautiful, that can be very moving if you’ll just kind of relax and not freak out because you think you’re supposed to be understanding the story, or...
Recorded on: 5/22/08
Christopher Wheeldon describes his young company, Morphosss.
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