It’s been glorious day on Broadway when the groundbreaking show “An American in Paris” (AAIP) opened its doors for the first time. AAIP was created for Broadway after the Oscar-winning movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The show needed someone with experience in story telling through its numerous dance numbers and in director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, they found just that. This past Tony Awards, Christopher was nominated in two categories: best director and best choreography. He won for best choreography; but who is Christopher Wheeldon and where did he come from?
Mr. Wheeldon is a celebrated principle ballet dancer turned choreographer. He has choreographed for ballet companies all around the world, including where he trained, The Royal Ballet School. Christopher and his work have been celebrated many times, winning honors and awards throughout his career, his Tony award being one of his most prestigious.
Taking a moment with him has been such an eye opening, fulfilling experience.
Tell us how you started in ballet.
I saw a ballet on TV with dancing chickens and I asked my mum how I could become a dancing chicken. She said they were ballet dancers. So I asked at the age of 7 to start taking ballet lessons.
When did you start thinking about ballet as a career?
When I was about 11 and I got into the Royal Ballet School. I knew then that this was meant to be my career.
What was your favorite thing about performing?
Getting lost in the private world of performance. When a role is great and you are confident in performing it, the real world evaporates and you inhabit a fantasy realm. In a way, performance is like meditation. It allows you to shut out the stresses and worries of normal life.
What about choreographing and directing?
In both: Seeing your imagination come to life in the hands of others. I had never had the experience of making a script come to life onstage until working on AAIP. It becomes your responsibility to ake the characters leap off the page and to create a world for them to live in.
Where do you look to for your inspirations?
Everywhere: art, music, other choreographers and directors. Life is the best research.
How has your training affected your life?
I suppose my dance training made me a perfectionist. When you learn to scrutinize every aspect of your art form from the age of 7 years old, it makes you strive harder for perfection in other aspects of life. When I am putting together a new production no stone remains unturned. This also makes me hard on myself.
Do you have anyone you continue to look up to?
Yes of course. I have many peers I admire and I feel very much still the student as a director. One hit show does not a director make. I very much admire Nicholas Hytner, the great English theater director, and Jack O’ Brian, the American director. There are many choreographers I enjoy: Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, amongst others.
How much time goes into creating a show or ballet?
American in Paris was a 5-year process. Ballets tend to be shorter but a big ballet like “Alice In Wonderland” or “The Winter’s Tale” was in planning (set and costume design) for about a year and a half. The creative time in the studio actually choreographing can be between 3 and 12 weeks depending on the size and length of the work.
What has the experience been like working for Broadway?
Very interesting. I’ve learned so many new skills. Pretty much everything artistic goes through the director of a musical. It’s a huge job and you are as much responsible for the shaping of the book as you are making it come to life.
How has being InLove affected your life?
You asked me what keeps me grounded. It’s the love I have for my husband and for my mother and the memory of my late father. All different types of love but it is what’s real at this moment in my life.
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