Whelan, with Brian Brooks, in Brooks’ Fall Falls. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.
Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, premiering at Jacob’s Pillow this month, connects the ballerina—one of the finest of our time—with four contemporary choreographers. Joshua Beamish, Alejandro Cerrudo, Brian Brooks, and Kyle Abraham will dance in duets they have created with the New York City Ballet star in their distinctive personal styles. Her command of these previously foreign vocabularies might amaze audiences as much as the artists involved. “I was most surprised to see how well she takes to floor work,” says Beamish. “I rarely get ballerinas to go down on the floor without negotiation. She just goes for it, no questions asked. Few successful established artists choose to be so daring.”
“I’d seen most of the choreographers’ work at events like DRA, Fall for Dance, and Fire Island Dance Festival,” says Whelan, “and my intrigue in their movement was starting to really build.” At a showing at the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series, she mentioned that she has worked with many great choreographers, such as Wheeldon and Ratmansky, but that she hasn’t had the chance to dance alongside them—until now.
Whelan, a Louisville, Kentucky, native who has been with NYCB for 27 years, has faced numerous challenges during the process. “I have learned that I am stronger than I thought, more resilient and capable,” she notes. “Besides all my hours learning these new choreographic languages, I have been fundraising, letter writing, going to meetings, talking about the idea to gain support, and meeting presenters, costume and lighting designers,” among other duties. “To feel the different relationships of each duet begin to solidify is a gift.”
Whelan’s appeal and savvy have borne fruit—there are plans for Restless Creature to tour to 10 cities after the Pillow, including New York City’s Joyce Theater and the Royal Opera House in London. “I am learning that I am never too old to learn something new, and by doing that I stay ‘younger,’ ” says Whelan. Wise words from a brilliant artist.