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Christopher’s ‘Carousel’ Ride

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Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon heads back to Houston with a new work.

By Marene Gustin • Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Wheeldon
Christopher Wheeldon

Houston Ballet fans will get a joy ride when the company premieres Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) on its repertory evening this month. This delightful 10-minute work, originally choreographed for New York City Ballet’s 2002 centennial tribute to Richard Rodgers, is more of a dance than a narrative ballet. But any fan of the 1956 musical will see the entire story of doomed carnival barker Billy Bigelow and his love, even if the ballet is shorter than the commercial breaks in the movie.

 “It is short,” exclaims Wheeldon from his New York City office, “but people see it and come back and say they remember it longer. It just feels like a complete work.”

 The 36-year-old choreographer and co-founder of the two-year-old Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, uses costumes and choreography to evoke the carnival rides and   fairground atmosphere in this romantic romp, which should charm fans of his Carnival of Animals that Houston Ballet performed in 2007 with John Lithgow as narrator.

 “It seems that Houston is only getting the cheerful Wheeldon ballets,” he muses. But that may change. These days the hotshot dancemaker is incredibly busy. He’ll premiere a new work for San Francisco Ballet later this year as well as making pieces for his own company, which performs around the world and even in Texas this October at the opening of the $354 million Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. “No one can say I don’t keep myself busy.”

 The English-born Wheeldon, whose work also appeared in the 2000 ballet flick Center Stage (“but not the sequel, the less said about that the better”), doesn’t have a lot of downtime—no pets, no hobbies. His Brooklyn home has a garden that hasn’t been landscaped yet. “I want to work in it,” he says, “but whatever I plant, it’s going to have to take care of itself.” As for a personal life, he prefers to stay “hush-hush” about relationships. He came to New York City in the ’90s and also came out, which didn’t surprise his mother, he says.

 “Basically it was like ‘we know you’re gay, we love you, get over it.’ She did say she didn’t want to come to my wedding on a Miami beach, but I have no plans for marriage right now, so that’s okay.” The revelation established his mother’s love and something else: “It confirmed my suspicion that mothers know everything.”

ADance
Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance).

 Wheeldon will be here for opening night of Carousel (A Dance) but won’t stay long. He admits to not knowing much about Houston, spending most of his time here inside hotels and theaters. But there’s one place you will probably find him—“The Menil Collection and The Rothko Chapel,” he sighs. “It’s one of my favorite places in the world.”

 Houston Ballet’s repertory evening, Of an Era, opens at the Wortham Theater Center May 28 and runs through June 7. Carousel (A Dance) is one of three works on the program, which also includes artistic director Stanton Welch’s Nosotros and the Houston premiere of Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat. All three choreographers are gay. Tickets start at $17. Call 713/227-2787 or 1-800-828-ARTS. Tickets and more information are also available at houstonballet.org.

 Marene Gustin also writes about Red Ribbon Adventures and Living with HIV in this issue of OutSmart magazine.

PHOTO CAPTION
Triumphant return: British-born, but Houston bred, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon returns to the Bayou City for Houston Ballet’s presentation of his Carousel (A Dance).

Called “too terrific not to be seen again” by The New York Times, Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) deftly employs the circular movements of a Ferris wheel to interpret the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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