This Wheeldon's Fire
By Joshua David Stein
Christopher Wheeldon wields a lot of power in the world of ballet. Happily, as the former soloist and resident choreographer -- and, frankly, the golden boy -- of the New York City Ballet, he wields it gracefully. Wheeldon, 35, began dancing in his youth at London's Royal Ballet, and he lives, breathes, and loves (his partner, Jock Soto, is a recently retired New York City Ballet legend) ballet even as he yanks it into the 21st century.
Since starting his company, Morphoses, in 2007, Wheeldon has sought to bring the elevated forms of classical dance to the masses. Audiences from London to New York to Vail have responded with sold-out shows and standing ovations. Thankfully, Wheeldon isn't going the route of Bravo's Step It Up and Dance. 'We want to attract people who think they might not understand ballet [and] make it accessible.' You won't see kneepads, conga lines, or -- God forbid -- turned-in pirouettes and flexed feet. 'It's a matter of updating the form elegantly and with integrity.'
A recent Morphoses performance starts with a short documentary film of dancers engaged in grueling rehearsals. Darcy Bussell, one of Wheeldon's muses, is shown on screen in sweatpants, perspiring. The curtain rises and there's Bussell, serene and smooth in a beige costume, casting her long limbs into Wheeldon's memorable shapes in Tryst Pas de Deux with Jonathan Cope. Without his choreographic skill, Wheeldon's determination to bring the audience backstage would be just another hey-look-at-my-process ploy. But Wheeldon makes bodies curve, extend, and entwine in ways that would make George Balanchine blush. His men are muscular; his women are assertive.
Wheeldon has big plans for the future too. 'I would love to break into popular music like pop and indie rock,' he tells me. 'I'd like to work with people like Rufus [Wainwright] and Sufjan [Stevens.]' Already in the works: a collaboration with Ruben and Isabel Toledo, a painter'and'fashion designer team in New York. In October, Morphoses returns to the City Center stage in New York where it debuted just a year ago, this time bringing even more buzz and a new work.
For a fall schedule visit Morphoses.org.