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The Restless Creature: The Story of the Pioneering Ballerina, Wendy Whelan

In this article, Bwog’s new writer Gabriella Philips delves into the world of ballet and shares her insight on Wendy Whelan. 

Ballet isn’t like contemporary dance, where the dancers are constantly using the time with the choreographer to improvise and develop material. In a ballet company, it’s much more expected that you as the choreographer come up with the dance, and the dancers execute your vision. Wendy Whelan, on the other hand, is a dancer who won’t be silenced. She has ideas which have definitely altered the world of ballet as we know it today. She’s uncompromising, generous, bold, decisive, and at the same time, enthusiastic and investigative. Few dancers in any genre show better that a work should be a process of self-discovery.

Wendy Whelan is among that rare breed of artists who have touched the public in a way that transcends the fashions that can make ballerinas sensations for a season. Her sinewy physicality, with its tensile articulation of muscle and tendon, her kinetic clarity and her dramatic, otherworldly intensity have created a quite distinct and unusual identity. I personally love that she is not made in the ballerina mold of the past, with all delicate curves and hyper-feminine prettiness. She is a far more unusual and rather restless creature: a modern ballerina and a determined player in a world still dominated by male creators and directors.

In the dance world, if a dancer is 40 or over, he or she is essentially a dinosaur. When a choreographer told Whelan that she wasn’t invited to be in the Nutcracker again, her world came crashing down. She has said multiple times that ever since she was a child, she never imagined that one day she wouldn’t be able to do the one thing that she loves most, dance. It hadn’t dawned upon her until that day with her choreographer that she was aging and her body was having difficulty executing the difficult ballet combinations. Wendy said in an interview that she can’t fathom herself not dancing or not doing something related to dance. Although her time at the New York City Ballet was coming to an end, this didn’t mean that it was the end of the Whelan legacy.

It’s not over. In 2014, Ms. Whelan put together “Restless Creature,” a program featuring four duets — by the contemporary choreographers Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo. Filmmakers Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger followed Whelan during one of the most emotional moments in her career: When she was preparing to leave New York City Ballet after 30 years with the company and launch her own project, Restless Creature. The film takes viewers inside rehearsals for By 2 With & From, Whelan’s farewell ballet created for her by Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon and also exhibits . It also follows her throughout recovery from hip surgery, with candid interviews and footage of Whelan’s final curtain call. there’s also apparently some great dance footage of child and teenage Wendy.

Although her 30 years of dancing at the New York City Ballet has come to an end, Wendy Whelan is explicitly ready for more. “I still have so much dancing in me, so much to say,” she said. “It’s not an end.” Her many curtsies to the audience will stay in our memories. Opening her arms wide and inclining one knee, she greeted the theater with grace, pride and modesty. Wendy Whelan has enlarged the art she serves; it has enriched her. And with that, I leave you with one my favorite quotes from the revolutionary Wendy Whelan: “Dance has asked me to define my individuality and ultimately to redefine my own notions of beauty. It has made me aware of my ego and the complexities of having one. Dance has shown me the beauty of humility. It has helped me develop a capacity for awareness – to find beauty in so many fleeting moments. To be a dancer is to work within an art form that lives and dies in nearly the same instant and, in this sense, offers powerful lessons in mortality.”

The Great Leap via Wildwoodballet

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