Kindness Counts: How Wendy Whelan Changed NYCB

There were many wonderful things about the new documentary Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature. One of them was her vulnerability in talking about leaving New York City Ballet after 30 years. I was almost crying too. But what keeps ringing in my mind is something Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director and former NYCB dancer Peter Boal says.

The filmmakers, Adam Schlesinger and Linda Saffire, followed Whelan for a year, and caught glimpses of some of her conversations with old friends. Whelan and Boal, who had danced together when they were both principals at NYCB, meet together for a chat in the plaza of Lincoln Center. He expresses his admiration for her in words something like this: “You knew everyone's name. When you walked into a room, you would say hello to everyone. You changed the culture at City Ballet. Before you, dancers were like, Get out of my way."

I know what he means. I've seen Whelan greet not only other dancers, but also security guards, with effervescence. (Disclaimer: I appear in about three seconds of the film.) Her effect on other dancers was so clear the night of her farewell. Besides her contagious exuberance onstage in the excerpt from Dances at a Gathering, the endless applause from the company at her final curtain call made it clear how well loved she was.

I wondered whether the positive effect of her presence still holds, now that it's been two years since she left NYCB. I asked two corps dancers, Silas Farley and Claire Kretzschmar, whom I ran into at the New York Film Festival screening on October 10, whether her warming effect still holds. They both said absolutely—they still feel her influence in the work environment.

Whelan really does care about the people she works with. One of the most moving scenes in the film is when she talks about what she will miss. She gets teary when discussing the relationships she's formed over the years. And in this "Why I Dance" from 2009, you can see that she has made attachments to teachers, choreographers and other dancers. That's not unusual for a dancer, but Whelan spreads her good cheer and loving nature to the whole company.

I hope that dancers everywhere can apply Whelan's sense of community on a daily basis. Dancers' lives are difficult and we all compete with each other to some degree. But that should not dampen our appreciation for our peers. Kindness counts.

Get more Dance Magazine.

Latest Posts


Martin Miseré, Courtesy Cinetic Media

The Best Way to Close a Century of Cunningham? A 3-D Film of His Work

In much the same way that it would be reductive to think of Merce Cunningham's choreography as steps divorced from meaning, to call Alla Kovgan's highly anticipated film Cunningham a documentary is to oversimplify. There's rare archival footage, sure, but the musings of Cunningham, his early dancers, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg are melded with contemporary performances. Members of the final generation of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (coached by director of choreography Jennifer Goggans) dance sections of the choreographer's most iconic works in eye-popping locations, filmed using 3-D technology to grant audiences an unprecedented degree of intimacy. Could there be a better way to close the year-plus extravaganza of events celebrating Cunningham's centennial? In theaters December 13.

Paul Matteson teaching at Lion's Jaw Performance & Dance Festival. Photo courtesy Matteson

These 5 Mistakes Are Holding You Back from Improving

There's a healthy dose of repetition in your dance education—whether it's those same fundamentals you're asked to practice over and over as you deepen your technique or the many run-throughs it takes to polish a piece of choreography. But teachers also see the same missteps and issue the same reminders from student to student, perhaps over decades in the studio.

We asked five master teachers to describe the things they wish they no longer had to correct—because if students could just remember to incorporate the feedback, they'd be on their way to becoming better dancers.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Can We Confront Implicit Bias? The Director of Jacob's Pillow Shares Her Ideas

At Jacob's Pillow's June gala, something happened that outraged me: A patron who identifies as black/biracial felt a white man seated behind her touch her tightly coiled hair. When she ignored him, he audibly complained that her hair would block his view of the stage. At dinner, the patron was further subjected to a series of objectifying questions. "What are you?" asked the white woman sitting next to her. Not "who are you," but a dehumanizing "what." "Who was black? Was it your mother or your father? What do your children look like?"

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest