10 Things We Didn't Know About Christopher Wheeldon
Dance Magazine has published several stories about the brilliant, multi-faceted choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, including a cover story and a recent feature on the making the Broadway musical An American in Paris, plus an occasional posting from me, like when his company Morphosis opened at City Center.
But Monday night, when the glamorous Rita Moreno (star of the movie West Side Story) interviewed him at Symphony Space, they struck up a delightful rapport and we learned some things we never knew before. Here are some of those things:
Beginnings in Somerset, England
“I was a hyperactive child. Before ballet I was probably driving my mother insane. My early lessons were very Billy Elliot —12 girls at the barre and me holding onto a plastic chair in the middle of the room.”
Watching musicals on TV
“We had only three television channels. Whenever a musical was on, it was a big event in our family. We planned a week ahead of time; we had early dinner. My favorites were West Side Story and Singin' in the Rain.”
The first ballet he saw was a dud.
“My mother took me to a local community center production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was a pretty easy audience but it was dreadful.”
“When I saw Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée with The Royal Ballet, I was sold by the chickens. That made me know I wanted to be a dancer. I was so disappointed when I got into the company and learned that the chickens were danced only by the ladies.”
A choreographer is born.
“As an 8-year-old, I made a prequel to Swan Lake. My dancers hatched out of eggs before they became swans….It might be my best work to date.”
“I’d skip Labanotation class and go to the library and read Dance Magazine and watch videos of American Ballet Theatre when Baryshnikov was there.”
Making theater sets
“My parents bought me a Victorian toy theater. I built sets. One of them was the set for Starlight Express, and I had runways going all over my bedroom.”
Joining NYCB was based on a misunderstanding.
While on a break from The Royal Ballet, Christopher asked to take class at New York City Ballet. They were auditioning another boy, but they must have mixed the two of them up. After class he was told to go see Peter Martins. “He offered me a spot in the corps and asked me why I wanted to leave The Royal Ballet. When I told him I didn’t, he said, ‘Then why did you audition?’ But I hadn't meant to; I was just taking class and then I was headed for Macy’s and the Statue of Liberty. Still he said he needed a boy in the corps, so I asked him if I could watch the company for a week and then let him know.”
Bad at partnering
“When I was on my own I was in heaven, but I was terrified of partnering. Partnering is a certain sensitivity, and beyond that, poetry. I would joke that a girl would fall off pointe when I came in the room. I so wanted to find that sensitivity. It broke my heart that I didn’t feel it.”
Lack of confidence
When working on An American in Paris, "I was so far outside of my comfort zone. I had to hide my fear and appear confident when actually I was feeling like a sweaty, floundering fool. Thank goodness the actors were patient with me.”
Photos from top: Rita Moreno, courtesy of Symphony Space. Christopher Wheeldon rehearsing An American in Paris, photo by Matt Trent.
Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.
At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.
When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.
"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."
Back when Robbie Fairchild graced the cover of the May 2018 issue of Dance Magazine, he mentioned an idea for a short dance film he was toying around with. That idea has now come to fruition: In This Life, starring Fairchild and directed by dance filmmaker Bat-Sheva Guez, is being screened at this year's Dance on Camera Festival.
While the film itself covers heavy material—specifically, how we deal with grief and loss—the making of it was anything but: "It was really weird to have so much fun filming a piece about grief!" Fairchild laughs. We caught up with him, Guez and Christopher Wheeldon (one of In This Life's five choreographers) to find out what went into creating the 11-minute short film.
When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.
The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.
Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.