Ashley Wheater has dedicated his life to dance. He was born in Scotland and trained at the Royal Ballet School in England. He worked with Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, and Michael Somes in numerous ballets at Covent Garden, including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Manon, Anastacia, and The Dream. Wheater danced with Rudolf Nureyev in Nureyev and Friends at the London Coliseum.
On Nureyev’s advice, Wheater joined the London Festival Ballet and danced in his Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty. Wheater danced in Glen Tetley’s Sphinx and Greening and in Festival Ballet’s large repertoire of classics and new creations. Under the artistic direction of John Field, he was promoted to Principal Dancer at the age of 20.
In 1982, he joined the Australian Ballet, where he continued dancing principal roles in both classical and contemporary work, especially in the John Cranko full-length ballets.
In 1985, at the invitation of Gerald Arpino, Wheater joined The Joffrey Ballet. For the next four years, he performed various works by American choreographers including William Forsythe, Gerald Arpino, Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, and Laura Dean, as well as repertoire by Ashton and Cranko.
Joining the San Francisco Ballet in 1989, he continued his creative career working under Helgi Tomasson and with choreographers James Kudelka, David Bintley, and many others. In 1997, he retired from dancing and was appointed Ballet Master and, later, Assistant to the Artistic Director, at the San Francisco Ballet.
Since his appointment in 2007 as Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, Wheater’s passion for and commitment to the Joffrey have been evident in the quality that he has brought to the dancing and to the repertoire. He has invited world-renowned choreographers, as well as fresh young talent, to create new work for the company. Wheater has added new full-length works to the Joffrey’s repertoire, including Lar Lubovitch’s groundbreaking Othello, Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, and Yuri Possokhov’s Don Quixote.
In 2008, Wheater was the recipient of the Boeing Game-Changer Award in recognition of his commitment to community engagement in Chicago and to the celebration of diversity through dance. He sits on the Advisory Board for Dance Magazine, serves as Artistic Advisor for ChiArts, and is the Advisor to the Arts for the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. In 2010, Wheater, representing The Joffrey Ballet, was named Lincoln Academy Laureate, the highest honor presented by the State of Illinois, and in 2013, the Chicago Tribune named him “Chicagoan of the Year.” In 2015, Wheater received the University of Chicago Rosenberger Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Creative and Performing Arts. In December 2019, he was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.