Director’s Cut: Ashley Wheater MBE


Welcome to Director’s Cut, a fresh series of snappy, engaging interviews with ballet artistic directors all across the country. These micro-interviews blend ballet insights with get-to-know-you questions for a quick yet meaningful peek behind the ballet curtain. Whether you want to learn about a dream song to choreograph to, or the best place to grab a bite post-ballet performance, you have come to the right place.

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of Joffrey Ballet, has dedicated his life to dance. He was born in Scotland and trained at The Royal Ballet School in England. Wheater’s professional dancing career took him to the London Festival Ballet, then the Australian Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet. He then retired from performing and was appointed Ballet Master at the San Francisco Ballet and, later, Assistant to the Artistic Director.

Since his appointment in 2007 as Artistic Director of Joffrey Ballet, his passion and commitment to Joffrey Ballet have been evident in the quality that he has brought to the dancing and to the repertoire.

In December 2019, he was appointed to be a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Favorite Ballet Step?

It isn’t a “step” per se, but I do love the precision of petit allegro. I think there is a lot of beauty to be found in the architecture of a ballet class. It is in some ways one of the defining elements of our art form: something that unites so many different ballet dancers across space and time through a shared practice.

Best local restaurant to visit after a performance?

There is a restaurant called Coco Pazzo in Chicago which I absolutely adore. Equally, Proxi and Bar Mar are some of my favorite spots for a post-show drink.

Dream song to choreograph to?

I’ll take your question literally – the surreal “dream” the entire company are currently preparing to dance originates in the fantastically creative brain of Alexander Ekman. We open his “Midsummer Night’s Dream” on April 25th at Lyric Opera Chicago. Mikael Karlsson has composed a score to match, drawing on the talents of Swedish pop sensation, Anna von Hausswolff. The whole ballet really is dreamlike in the sense that it is absolutely impossible to predict what will happen next; it’s a sensory feast.

Essential pre-show ritual?

I don’t have much in the way of superstitions, so each show I focus on making sure the company have what they need before the curtain rises. I try to check in with as many people as I can to give them my support, and help them prepare for the incredibly demanding task of delivering world class ballet to the city of Chicago and beyond.

Book you last read?

I’ve just finished In Memoriam, by Alice Winn. If I’m not mistaken, this was her debut novel, and I was greatly moved by it. She sets what is really a gorgeous and heartbreaking tale against the very difficult background of war. I thought she was able to capture the ways people try to stay connected to one another, even when circumstances do their utmost to drive them apart.

Hobbies outside of ballet?

I do love to cook – there is a massive stand of cookbooks in my kitchen at home, and when I can, I travel. I have spent some time in Italy, and Italian history also fascinates me.

App you can’t live without?

I wish I could live without all of them, frankly, but I must say that those ridesharing apps (which shall remain nameless) are quite convenient.

What did you want to be when you grew up when you were a kid?

Really, from the age of 6 years old I knew I wanted to be a dancer. I was very lucky that my parents and so many other people in my life encouraged me, and gave me the opportunity to pursue that passion. I try never to take for granted those opportunities. I feel such gratitude for the life that ballet has helped me to build. It’s one of the many reasons I love my work – I feel enriched on a daily basis by the prospect of working with our amazing company.

Ballet dancer from the past that you wish you could go back in time to see?

Now, this is a truly difficult question. I think I would have to say the first performance Rudolf Nureyev gave after he defected from the Soviet Union.

Career milestone before becoming Joffrey Ballet's Artistic Director?

At twenty-one years old, I became a Principal Dancer with London Festival Ballet, which is now the English National Ballet – that was something that made me so excited.

Alanna Love is a writer based out of Boise, Idaho. She revels in tracing the thread of beauty woven throughout daily life, especially when it is found in ballet, literature, or historical wardrobing.
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