The curtain rises on Christopher Wheeldon’s new ballet, Bound To©, to reveal the dancers mesmerized by their cellphones. For viewers the moment of recognition is instantaneous—we are bound to technology. In this ballet, Wheeldon comments on what happens to us when we’re tucked behind our screens. “It’s a false sense of safety because you’re not actually with someone; the screen is like a shield,” he says. When we let the world rush by unnoticed, “we’re not seeing the beauty in life.” On the flip side, he’s addressing what we can achieve when we’re together—when we see, acknowledge, and interact without any screens to shield us.
Wheeldon recognizes that he is as bound to technology as anyone else. “I read a really interesting article in The Atlantic about how teenage culture is changing,” he says, adding that when he was a kid, “you couldn’t wait to get out of the house to meet your friends and socialize.” No more. Last year, on vacation, he saw kids and their parents hunkered down with cell phones or iPads instead of talking to each other, and he realized that he wanted to make a ballet about “this lack of connectivity, the way that technology is shifting our instincts for community and social interaction,” he says. “It’s not like we’re at a point where we’re not relating to one another at all, but I think it’s definitely heading in a bit of a scary direction.”
To help him convey his ideas, Wheeldon chose music by British composer Keaton Henson. They had worked together on a project for Ballet Boyz, which paired choreographers and composers in a 14-day creative process. Wheeldon says Henson’s music has a “grounded, real, human aspect—I love that in his music there’s always a child laughing, or the birds, or traffic.” In the ballet, these sounds amplify the idea that while we’re busy texting or scrolling through social media pages, the sights and sounds of daily life are going on—and we don’t notice.
Music: Keaton Henson (“Elevator Song (Kid Kanevil Remix)” (Faber Music) and “Elevator Song (Ulrich Schnauss Remix)”—all written and performed by Keaton Henson; by arrangement with Faber Music, Ltd., London. “Arpeggio,” “Healah Dancing,” “Nearly Curtains,” “Urgent,” and “Field.”—all music by Keaton Henson and orchestration by Matthew Naughtin; performed by Arrangement with Faber Music, Ltd., London. “Epilogue”—written and performed by Keaton Henson; orchestration by Matthew Naughtin, performed by arrangement with Kobalt Music Publishing.)
Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Staging: Tina LeBlanc
Scenic & Costume Design: Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls
Cast: 6 women, 5 men
Premiere: April 20, 2018; San Francisco Ballet (Unbound: A Festival of New Works)