When "An American in Paris" opens at the Academy of Music for its Philadelphia premiere (Nov. 22-27), its remix of the classic MGM musical starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron and featuring original songs by George and Ira Gershwin actually comes second in order of importance to who directed it: Christopher Wheeldon. The British-born, world-renowned choreographer has crafted and adapted over 90 modernist ballets, and won the 2015 Tony Award for choreography for "An American in Paris," which also marked his stage directorial debut. Plus, he’s in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) to boot.
Certainly we’ll discuss "An American in Paris," but you have great ties with the PA Ballet in that you’re bringing "Rush" here in May 2017. You must love us.
I do. My affiliation with your ballet goes back a long way as I made "Swan Lake" there 12 years ago. That same production just had its premiere in Rome. It’s nice to see that "Swan" with life after Philly. I’ve had several opportunities for the PA Ballet to dance my work since then, with "Rush" — a one-act, plotless work meant to capture the energy of California — being my seventh time with your company. It’s brightly colored, high-energy joyous dancing.
Did you create a similar opportunity for "An American in Paris" or did it fall into your lap? Was the MGM film wildly inspiring from the start?
I was approached by its producers who had acquired the rights to the MGM property who were interested in finding a director-choreographer rather than two separate entities. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was confident enough to make this my debut as a director. After I got paired up for a few directors I liked, but who ultimately weren’t interested, I took over.