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Choreographer takes ballet into 21st century -

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KERRY O'BRIEN: In its 45 year history, the Australian Ballet has often danced in the steps of great
choreographers but usually those greats aren't around to directly guide the dancers and shape the
work. For the past week, however, the nation's finest ballet dancers have been rehearsing with one
of the world's most acclaimed choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon, and the cloak of greatness has
been wrapped around him at a young age - he's 34.

Since retiring as a dancer, Wheeldon's career as a choreographer has gone ahead literally in leaps
and bounds. He's even credited with taking classical dance into the 21st century. In his latest
work, opening at the Sydney Opera House tonight, Christopher Wheeldon is keen to show ballet is
more about heart than tutus and point shoes. Scott Bevan reports.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: If you can elicit an emotional response through movement, it's a very
powerful thing.

this megastar of choreography. He's one of those people who has that sort of ability to transform
music into dance and it's a rare talent.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON (during rehearsal): A little bit more out. Yeah, like that. Somewhere between
the two.

SCOTT BEVAN: Christopher Wheeldon not only has the world at his feet...

CHRIS WHEELDON (during rehearsal): It should be like there and gently down the side of his face.

SCOTT BEVAN: ... He has the ballet world on its feet, as dancers around the globe turn his ideas and
words into poetry in motion.

LUCINDA DUNN, PRINCIPAL ARTIST AT AUSTRALIAN BALLET: We do many, many ballets and a lot of the
choreographers aren't around anymore, so to have something we're about to do and to have him here
with us, and his presence and his authority, yeah, he's a big deal.

SCOTT BEVAN: The Englishman, based in New York, is currently in Sydney working with the Australian

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: Your ballet is extraordinary and I can't wait to see what happens in the next
week as you weave your magic over the top of it.

SCOTT BEVAN: The company is preparing to perform the Australian premier of Wheeldon's ballet,
titled After the Rain. It's a work that relies not on a storyline or scenery or costumes, but on
what can be evoked from simply music and movement.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: Some people see love, some people see respect, you know, it's a very
interesting sort of phenomenon with abstract work, with abstract dance, because it does leave it
open to the interpretation of the audience.

LUCINDA DUNN: Ballet can be beautiful, it doesn't have to have a story, it doesn't have to have a
tutu to be exquisite.

SCOTT BEVAN: As a principal artist at the Australian Ballet, Lucinda Dunn is helping bring to life
Christopher Wheeldon's vision in this production. But 15 years ago, they cradled each other's
dreams of dancing. Both were teenagers training at London's Royal Ballet School.

LUCINDA DUNN: He was a beautiful dancer himself and I actually had two years at the school with
him, and he turned out to be my pas de deux partner, so we did our graduation performance together.

SCOTT BEVAN: So what was he like as a pas de deux partner?

LUCINDA DUNN: Yeah, we had some moments.

SCOTT BEVAN: What do you mean? Did he almost drop you or something?

LUCINDA DUNN: I have to see what he wants me to say (laughs).

SCOTT BEVAN: No, come on, be brave. He's only the choreographer now, don't worry.

LUCINDA DUNN: Um...Yeah, we had a hair-raising moment, actually.

SCOTT BEVAN: What happened?

LUCINDA DUNN: He dropped me (laughs). Sorry, Chris.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: You know, I got her up there and suddenly my elbows buckle and I completely
lost my grip, and down she went (laughs).

SCOTT BEVAN: Has she forgiven you?

CHRISTOHER WHEELDON: She has forgiven me, yes. I don't know if I can quite forgive her for telling
that story (laughs).

SCOTT BEVAN: From London, Wheeldon crossed the Atlantic using an airline ticket he'd won in a
vacuum cleaner promotion and joined the New York City Ballet.

But at the age of 28 he hung up his ballet shoes and with them, his ambition of becoming a
principal dancer.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: You hope and dream and work really hard and then there comes a point where
you have to really sort of look at it realistically and say, "Am I going to do that?" And in my
case, I wasn't going to do that, so - and I was very lucky because I had choreography to fall back

SCOTT BEVAN: Wheeldon has gone on to create about 30 works, including Continuum, which was
performed by the Australian Ballet three years ago. He draws his ideas from his experiences, from
music and for a duet in Continuum, from very close to home.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: I had a golden retriever and a black cat at the time and they were sparring,
you know, something had happened and the cat suddenly kind of pulled back, and the dog lunged
forward and there was this amazing little duet going on between them and I went straight in and
incorporated that into the pas de deux. So, you know, dance can come from anywhere.

DAVID MCALLISTER: I think sometimes people view some contemporary works as being quite sterile and
you know, hard to relate to on an emotional level, whereas Chris's works always have that emotional

SCOTT BEVAN: The Australian Ballet's artistic director David McAllister admires Christopher
Wheeldon's ability to tiptoe along the tightrope between traditional ballet and contemporary dance.

DAVID MCALLISTER: He's got a very rich ballet heritage. He sort of melds all of that information
that he has, and then sort of reuses it in unusual and fabulous sort of new ways, which actually
furthers the art form.

SCOTT BEVAN: Wheeldon's approach to choreography has led to him being called a modern-day saviour
of ballet. Now that kind of praise makes him wince.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: It's great for one's ego every now and then to have great things written
about them, but it has become a little bit tiresome, just simply because it just adds a lot of
pressure really to what I do. And I do what I do because it's what I'm meant to do and because I
love it.

SCOTT BEVAN (referring to weather): Well I don't know about After the Rain but maybe In the Rain?

CHRISTOPHER BEVAN: (laughs) Yeah, certainly During the Rain.

SCOTT BEVAN: Wheeldon is now planning a new move, well a leap of faith actually. He's setting up
his own company, bringing together young artists from all over the world.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: It's a risk but it's one that I'm prepared to take. But I firmly believe that
dance, a dance performance, should be about sort of the meeting of all the art forms.

SCOTT BEVAN: And when the dancers meet in this ballet, Christopher Wheeldon's greatest desire is to
move the audience.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: I hope it creates some sort of emotional response that would encourage them,
those that haven't been to the ballet, to then come back and see more, and those that have to
continue coming. That's my mission at the moment, is to create work that excites people and brings
them back.