In Studio 4 with Christopher Wheeldon
January 10, 2012

Ever wonder what makes choreographer extraordinaire Christopher Wheeldon tick? Two clues: mu and sic.


Wheeldon’s passion for music and choreography was evident to those of us in the audience of a Studio 5 lecture/demonstration at New York City Center—though it was held in studio 4 last night. During the 75-minute presentation, host Damian Woetzel (former NYCB principal and current Vail International Dance Festival Director) spoke candidly to Wheeldon, who, by the way, has a seriously cute British accent. Six NYCB dancers (including Wendy Whelan, Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht) took center studio to demonstrate excerpts of Wheeldon’s work including Polyphonia, Mercurial Manoeuvres, Carousel, After the Rain and a bit of his newest piece (still unnamed), which premieres later this month at NYCB.


Most of the night’s conversation was geared towards Wheeldon’s use of music. When speaking about the creation of Polyphonia (set to a complex score by Ligetti), Wheeldon admitted that up until that work he often only used music that “was as accessible to him as it was to an audience…composers like Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Dvorak.” But up for a particular challenge, Wheeldon was in search of music that he was more unfamiliar with and he remembered a piece by Ligetti that his piano teacher had assigned him—which he hated. But the perks of using music that is virtually “unlistenable” and dense? “You can introduce the music to an audience in a visual way and bring some level of understanding to it,” he says.


What shocked me about Wheeldon is how young he is, and how approachable. He’s also quite witty; and despite his fame, his humility shines through. “I don’t know what I’m really good at…” Woetzel quickly interjected “Choreography!”


Part of the power of Wheeldon’s choreography comes from his use of stillness during key moments of the score. For example, during Mercurial Manoeuvres, Wheeldon described a shimmering sound in the score: “It was so perfect, I didn’t want to put anything over it,” he says. “It’s about recognizing moments of stillness and allow them to be there…Understanding how those moments can be magnetic and allow dancers to create.” A few moments later, Wheeldon followed up with this statement: “Well, some dancers’ ideas are good, others are terrible…you have to be prepared to bring down the plane.”


What’s next for Wheeldon:

If you happen to be in the Netherlands this February, he’s creating a premiere for the Dutch National Ballet in honor of their 50th anniversary. Next fall, he’s working on a new Cinderella for San Francisco Ballet. But perhaps most excitingly:  Look for Wheeldon’s work during the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London this summer!


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