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Ashley Wheater happy to stay on as Joffrey Ballet artistic director

The board and administration of the Joffrey Ballet breathed a collective sigh of reliefTuesday, even as they beamed with a bit of pride. That is because they learned that Ashley Wheater, the company’s artistic director since 2007 — who in recent weeks was shortlisted for the hugely powerful job of artistic director of the Britain’s Royal Ballet — did not get that post and would happily continue on in Chicago. (The man who did get the job is Kevin O’Hare, who has had a long association as both dancer and administrator with several major British companies, including the Royal Ballet, and who plans to work closely with choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor.)

“I was extremely honored and excited to even be considered,” said Wheater, who trained at the Royal Ballet school and danced with the Joffrey, the Australian Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet before coming to lead the Joffrey. “But I did not seek the job. I just received a letter asking me to come see the company and school, which I hadn’t seen for a year or so. I went to London and did that, and gave them my thoughts. And about two weeks ago they asked me to officially apply for the job, which I did. I also quickly informed the Joffrey board because I wanted them to hear the word from me, not second-hand.”

Although Wheater’s name has not been listed as among the finalists in any of the stories in the British newspapers, he was told “from the top” about his finalist ranking.

“The truth is, I feel like I have only just begun my work with the Joffrey,” said Wheater, who noted he is eagerly looking forward to the company’s production of “Don Quixote” next season. He noted he already has been in discussion with Wheeldon, who was impressed by the quality of the Joffrey when they danced his pieces “Carousel Suite” and “After the Rain” in recent seasons, about creating an original work for the troupe.

“The Royal Ballet job is huge, and exists within a strongly institutional operation at Covent Garden, and with a budget that is probably around 40 million English pounds per year,” said Wheater. “My partner and I just closed on a place in Chicago, and I am very happy and contented at the Joffrey. I also am thrilled that my colleagues in the dance world considered my work here worthy of consideration in London.

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