By Jerry Portwood
Photograph by Angela Sterling
Some fairytales are forever. Or at least it seem that way when it comes to Cinderella. Seeking to breathe new life into that classic, choreography Christopher Wheeldon decided to salvage the image of Prince Charming—"who typically shows up a handsome, but slightly vacant guy"—to sweep Cinderella of into her fairytale fantasy future.
"We watched our modern princes, these two young boys William and Harry, grow up and fall in love for love; I thought that would be fun take," Wheeldon, who was born and raised in the U.K., explains about his lavish, epic ballet. A co-production between the Dutch National Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet, it receives its New York premiere October 23-27 at Lincoln Center.
This sort of narrative ballet, a recent departure from Wheeldon's previous abstract works, has garnered him newfound praise, although one vocal critic at the New York Times questioned in a lengthy piece this summer why the openly gay choreographer, who has created ballets with male-on-male partnerings in the past, would choose such a classically hetero storyline. "Sometimes it is purely about sculpting bodies in a way that captures or paints a musical phrase or to explore the possibilities of partnering," Wheeldon says. "I never look to demean women or overly revere them. I look for a poetic harmony between man and woman. I am a proud, openly gay man that admires the harmony of love of any denomination, and I adore depicting love as a sensitive and powerful human emotion through movement. My idea of this harmony may not be shared by others."
But Wheeldon went further to point out that he doesn't shy away from intimate dance moments between men in his work. "I have actually made ballets with male-on-male partnering, including my most recent work 'Tide Harmonic' for Pacific Northwest Ballet," he says. "Who knows: Maybe there is a ballet that depicts the story of a homosexual love in my future, for now I create ballets that tell a particular story that appeals at a particular moment in time or in response to a piece of music that inspires me. Not for any particular political or social agenda."
These narrative works may have all been practice for his next big challenge—an as yet undisclosed Broadway show that he'll be directing. "It's completely out of my comfort zone," he admits, since he's going to be working with actors, not dancers. "But it's taking me on an interesting path."
Another new path: He married his husband, Ross Rayburn, last month on Fire Island, where the couple originally met. So it seems some do find their prince charmings—where they least expect it.
For tickets to San Francisco Ballet's Cinderella at Lincoln Center, visit the website.