Adapting a classic like An American in Paris for the stage can certainly be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get to work with a widely known work of cinema, but on the other, you take the risk of falling short to that piece’s high standard of artistry.
Christopher Wheeldon, one of the most remarkable choreographers nowadays, has embraced the challenge of directing, none other than for the Broadway stage, an adaptation of that marvelous movie. To his advantage, he does have access to a terrific set of songs, written by George and Ira Gershwin, and to what’s definitely more important: lots of inspiration for making dance.
Wheeldon’s link to An American in Paris goes back to his childhood. As soon as he saw the movie in his native England when he was 7 years old, he decided he wanted to dance like Gene Kelly. Wheeldon’s rise to dance’s elite has been nothing but impressive: his formal education began at the Royal Ballet School, where he was later accepted as a dancer; but the next year he decided to be part of New York City Ballet, where he didn’t just dance -he also became the troupe’s first resident choreographer.
Wheeldon’s outstanding talent has made him one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world. Throughout the last ten years he has created ballets for prestigious companies like Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Canada and Miami City Ballet.
In fact, it was one of those ballets -Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Wheeldon created for the Royal Ballet and was vastly successful when it was streamed in movie theaters around the world- that put his name on the map of An American in Paris’ producers. (It is also worth noting that Wheeldon had already made a ballet to that Gershwin score for New York City Ballet.)
Wheeldon embarked upon adapting An American in Paris, approved by the Gershwin estate, aiming at transforming that enchanting homage to the City of Lights into a celebrated production for the theater. His work received sensational praise by the audience and critics in Paris, where it was premiered last year for a short run of shows.
On Broadway, it has been equally received by the public. As a matter of fact, An American in Paris has become one of the most commercially successful musicals during the last couple of months.
Wheeldon has been celebrated by this genuine homage to the French Capital, one that has been treated with delicacy, grace and a modern approach to classicism. The world of ballet is in desperate needs of a talent like Christopher Wheeldon: a choreographer that looks up into the future while paying respect to the traditions that has made of dance the most fascinating of the performing arts.