The Arizona Republic: “‘Masters of Movement’ with Christopher Wheeldon”
March 29th, 2009
The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen
At only 36, Christopher Wheeldon is a superstar of contemporary-ballet choreography, widely held to be the successor of such luminaries as Kenneth MacMillan and Frederick Ashton.
He was resident choreographer for George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and recently started his own company in New York, Morphosis.
He is bringing one of his earlier ballets, “Polyphonia,” to Ballet Arizona’s “Masters of Movement” program this week, where he will share the bill with Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides” (staged by Olga Evreinoff) and Twyla Tharp’s tornado of energy, “The Golden Section.”
Question: It’s a heck of a time to start up a new dance company, isn’t it?
Answer: We weren’t really anticipating the economic crash. When we began 2-and-a half-years ago, the economy was sparkling. It isn’t good timing, but it’s also forcing us to be resilient and creative. Probably a good thing.
Q: How hard is it to talk about dance? Someone once said it was like dancing about architecture.
A: That’s a good way of describing it. But it’s not impossible. Depends on what you’re asked. You just can’t describe any work in words.
Q: Then describe “Polyphonia.”
A: Hah! I can give you its structure. It’s a collection of dances set to piano music by Gyorgy Ligeti. It’s quite complex and difficult music, but it offers many options, rhythmically and melodically. What “Polyphonia” does is unlock the mystery of the music and make it more accessible — painting musical phrases with movement.
Q: Why Ligeti’s music?
A: I chose it initially as a challenge to myself. Up to “Polyphonia,” I used popular classics, and they were easy, because they were melodic and accessible. But I wanted to challenge myself with music I was both fascinated and terrified of.
A: It makes you unlock its mysteries through choreography. It started me on this journey to other works.
Q: In creating Morphosis, you said you wanted to make a company that combines dance, art, and music. You’ve said this was inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from the early part of the 20th century, but isn’t it also a step forward into Postmodernism?
A: It’s a little bit of both. It’s a return to some of the ideals of the Ballets Russes, a smaller company that is very hands-on. We make a log of films, and diaries of the creative process, using film or the Internet, and bringing in designers from the fashion industry and elsewhere, not just stage designers. We try to make it a vibrant and creative place. We’re not trying to recreate the Ballets Russes, but I am fascinated in all the arts coming together to create a single piece of art.
Q: Have ballet and modern dance morphed into one another? You’re on the program with Twyla Tharp’s “Golden Section.”
A: There are more contemporary modern-dance choreographers than there are contemporary classical-ballet choreographers. Tharp was one of the first in modern dance to brave the ballet world and create contemporary-looking works for ballet dancers. There is definitely a bleed-over between the two worlds now. Ballet companies are looking for new repertoire, and there isn’t that much new rep around. So you hire a young choreographer who isn’t necessarily working in ballet.
Q: What do you like least about classical ballet, and what would you wish to change?
A: I guess I’d like the audiences to be braver and to go see things that aren’t called “Swan Lake,” and encourage younger audiences to take the step and buy a ticket and come and be transported by the beautiful young people who are putting on a performance. It’s better than staying home and playing on the Internet.