Courtesy The Royal Ballet

Christopher Wheeldon's "Strapless" Premieres Tonight at The Royal Ballet

This story originally appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Pointe.

Biographical ballets are having a moment, finding success in the real-life stories of famous women. Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, which premiered at The Royal Ballet last May, and John Neumeier's Duse, which premiered at Hamburg Ballet in December, were both explorations of complex personal histories. Christopher Wheeldon's Strapless for The Royal Ballet, inspired by Madame X, will offer another depiction of a woman who was a muse herself.


The ballet, which premieres on February 12, investigates the life and times of Virginie Amélie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent's painting Madame X. The painting caused a sensation in 19th-century Paris because her pose and dress were considered inappropriate. The image triggered Gautreau's fall from social grace. “I've loved the painting since first seeing it at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 20 years ago," Wheeldon says. “I was intrigued by the subject's aloof beauty and investigated further." He found, though, that little is known about her life.

Wheeldon is taking some artistic license, due to limited historical knowledge and the need to tell a dramatic story. “The semi-fictional novel Strapless, by Deborah Davis, helped inspire the ballet and fills in blanks where history fails us," Wheeldon says. “It aims to imagine the events surrounding the scandal of Sargent's painting, and the ballet will follow those lines."

Is it coincidence that multiple choreographers have recently found inspiration in the lives of famous women? Wheeldon thinks so. “We're drawn to what interests us," he says. “We're just trying to make resonant work that connects with an audience."

Go behind-the-scenes at The Royal Ballet as they rehearse Strapless!

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Butternut Squash Takes Center Stage This Fall—Plus, 2 Easy Recipes

Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: The Joffrey Ballet's Dara Holmes

A seasoned dancer, Dara Holmes' career with The Joffrey Ballet has consisted of a lot of heavy lifting in the ensemble. "As a new company member, I was onstage all the time," says Holmes, 28. "The older you get, the more you start to appreciate your body and want to preserve it. If I want to keep dancing and do bigger roles, I need to be healthy."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks