How We Met: William Trevitt & Christopher Wheeldon
'I'd like to think of us as the Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney of the ballet world'
Sunday 21 February 2010
William Trevitt, 40, is an award-winning ballet dancer and choreographer. Previously a principal with the Royal Ballet, in 2001 he and fellow dancer Michael Nunn founded the Balletboyz dance company, to take dance to a wider audience through their stage and television work. Trevitt lives in west London with his wife and three children
My first memory of Chris goes back to the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park. I was about 16 when he arrived. My first contact with Chris was supervising homework for him and the other juniors in the evenings and turning their lights out at bedtime.
He was a precocious talent and stood out as one to watch. He had the physique, he was musical and creative. We only overlapped for a year, but I still heard about him – word gets round when someone is a good choreographer as well as a dancer; it's unusual to be able to do both.
I'd been a dancer with the Royal Ballet for four years when Chris joined. He was soon cast alongside more experienced dancers, but I never got the impression that he really loved performing. For him, the idea was better than the actual doing.
I had seen a piece I'd not much liked that he choreographed for a small tour the company does, but the next thing he did was a piece that I danced in and it was so audacious. Until then his work had been traditional, but this had subversion and wit.
Soon afterwards Chris went to work in America, but when Michael and I set up our company, we did everything possible to persuade him to work with us. He was so busy that rather than him come here, we all went to him in New York for three weeks.
What I admire most is his fearlessness. He could make a very good living going round the world choreographing for other people – he is in enormous demand – so to focus on his own company is brave.
At the Royal Ballet, your employers have known you since you were 11, so no one ever feels like they grow up. But I think we both felt the need to start afresh, which is why he went to America and me and Michael set up our own company.
Perhaps we work together so well because we have a shared history and now he knows us as dancers, so we have a shorthand between us. It's similar to film directors who choose to work with the same actors time and again. I'd rather like to think of us as the Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney of the ballet world.
Christopher Wheeldon, 36, is an award-winning ballet choreographer. A dancer with the Royal Ballet, London, he was a soloist with the New York City Ballet until his retirement from dance in 2000, when he became the company's choreographer. He founded his dance company Morphoses in 2006 and has choreographed for the Bolshoi, London's Royal Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet. He lives in New York and London
Billy was a sixth-former when I was in my first year at the Royal Ballet School, so I thought of him as one of the big scary boys, the untouchables. I looked up to Billy as a young dancer. He has a quiet elegance, a very untroubled style of dancing. There's a technical ease that is unmatched.
He was already in the Royal Ballet when I arrived and the age gap felt as though it had closed by then. The first time we worked together was a rather tough piece, so I'm not sure how enjoyable it was for him, but he's a beautifully gifted dancer and can do anything you ask him, so for me as a choreographer it was great. It wasn't until I choreographed a piece called Mesmerics for Billy and Michael that we became good friends. As a collaborator, he is brilliant – willing and unfussy. He likes to be a part of the process – you can't use him just as a body. Both of them have pushed me to try new things. They are big risk-takers and I have followed suit.
I think both of us see more potential in our field, and especially a more wide-reaching, inclusive potential. Ballet is, of course, a very specialised and beautiful art form and does belong in big opera houses, but it can also be enjoyed by many more people. I watched their film career and really admired what they were doing, bringing ballet to the masses.
When they found out I was going to work with the Bolshoi ballet in Moscow a couple of years ago they were really fired up about making a film about it. It was difficult at times, so it was great to have them there for support. The stand-out memory is a weekend trip to St Petersburg when we consumed copious amounts of vodka, cheese and small pickled vegetables on the night train getting there. We arrived exhausted and hung over and met some guy at the station who said he could take us on a tour of Moscow in his van. He was true to his word, showed us around and took us to our hotel, but afterwards we all said, "What were we thinking?"
Our friendship is sporadic, so we'll see each other for an intense period where our projects coincide, then maybe not at all for a while. But that is the nature of the industry – you get very close to people, very quickly, then it's "adios" and on to a new project, a new place.
Billy is an artist but after work he is also good fun, a normal guy. He is a lovely father to his kids and very devoted to his family as well as to his work. I think he is unique in how well-rounded he is.
Balletboyz tour with The Talent from 5 March. For details, visit www.balletboyz.com
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