10 Things to Know About Christopher Wheeldon

Christopher Wheeldon by Angela Sterling

Christopher Wheeldon

Photo by Angela Sterling

Meet the creative mind behind some of today’s most exciting ballets and Broadway shows, and even the Olympic Games. 

Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia

Photo by Gene Schiavone

Artists of Boston Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia

Photo by Gene Schiavone

Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia

Photo by Gene Schiavone

Artists of Boston Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia

Photo by Gene Schiavone

Acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon returns to Boston this spring to stage the Company premiere of his A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meet the dynamic choreographer and get excited to see his work on stage. 

1. He's a natural-born choreographer. 
As a kid, Wheeldon spent his summers directing homegrown performances with neighborhood friends. He choreographed his first piece when he was just nine years old and continued to create new works throughout his formative years studying at London’s Royal Ballet School. 

2. It all comes back to Shakespeare. 
When Wheeldon was young, his mother took him to see his first ballet—a community center production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Fast forward fifteen years, and Shakespeare's comedy of errors would become the choreographer’s first full-evening work. The timeless tale of crisscrossed lovers marks a major milestone in Wheeldon’s career, and fittingly brings his love of ballet and the Bard full circle.  

3. He learned from legends. 
Wheeldon got his start dancing for the Royal Ballet under principal choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, an internationally renowned artist known for his impeccable storytelling and numerous full-length works. MacMillan recognized Wheeldon’s choreographic talent and encouraged the young dancer to explore this passion, setting in motion the wheels of Wheeldon’s career. Later, at New York City Ballet, Wheeldon danced under ballet giant Jerome Robbins, whose heightened sense of character development informed Wheeldon’s approach to story ballets and eventually musical theater choreography.  

In 2001, Wheeldon transitioned from dancing to become the New York City Ballet resident choreographer and first resident artist. Five years later, at the encouragement of influential artist William Forsythe, he started his own company, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company. 

4. He takes artistic risks. 
When Wheeldon first decided to set movement to the complex, atonal piano compositions of György Ligeti, he was exhilarated and terrified by the project—but it ultimately led to his breakout work Polyphonia. Since then, the choreographer’s penchant for risk-taking has continued to propel his career forward, from founding his own company to becoming the first British choreographer to create a new work for the Bolshoi Ballet. 

5. His imaginative style has the dance world buzzing. 
Wheeldon uses classical dance vocabulary in bold new ways, earning him comparisons to ballet greats George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Sir Frederick Ashton. Critics praise his unparalleled musicality and attention to detail, regarding him as “one of the hottest classical choreographers of his generation” (The Guardian). 

6. He loves a refreshing twist. 
Whether staging Cinderella in-the-round or reimagining the third act of Swan Lake as a cabaret-style dinner, Wheeldon has made a name for himself by putting a fresh spin on classic tales. His playful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reinvigorates Shakespeare’s masterpiece to create an “exquisitely beautiful” production (The New York Times). 

7. You’ve probably seen his work before. 
Wheeldon has created ballet sequences for feature films like Center Stage and The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed Broadway productions including Sweet Smell of Success and An American in Paris, and even collaborated on the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. That’s just a sliver of his impressive oeuvre.  

8. His resume spans the globe. 
Wheeldon has created works on nearly every major ballet company including the Bolshoi Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet. He’s also served as principal guest choreographer for Boston Ballet, resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, and artistic associate for the Royal Ballet. 

9. His accolades started early and are never-ending. 
Wheeldon’s many awards span dance, film, and theater. His first major one was a coveted gold at the Prix de Lausanne competition at the age of 18 when he was dancing with the Royal Ballet in London. Now at 47, Wheeldon’s awards are primarily for his brilliant choreography. They include the Prix Benois de la Dans (Cinderella, Dutch National Ballet), a Tony Award (best choreography, An American in Paris), the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, multiple London Critics’ Circle Awards, and an Olivier Award. In 2016, Wheeldon was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and was made an Honorary Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also the subject of an Emmy Award-winning documentary, "Strictly Bolshoi,” which followed Wheeldon as he became the first Englishman to be invited to create a new work for the Bolshoi Ballet. 

10. He’s an outspoken advocate for the art form. 
Wheeldon is determined to broaden ballet’s reach and cultivate the next generation of fans. "I want to help audiences get over the idea ballet has some mysterious code they can’t decipher,” he says (New York Magazine). The creative powerhouse is on a mission to make ballet more accessible for everyone with sensual, athletic choreography that shows that ballet can be “sexy” and “young.” Early in his career, he was known for wearing a tee-shirt that said “STOP BITCHING AND START A REVOLUTION.” 

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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