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


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Alexandra McMaster

Start Your Dance Day With This Delicious Berry Breakfast Crisp Recipe

When it comes to breakfast, I want it to be easy and convenient but still taste delicious. My Berry Breakfast Crisp is just that. You can bake the crisp on the weekend as meal prep, then enjoy it throughout the week cold or warmed in the microwave. It freezes well, too!

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks