Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature




Classical ballet is defined as being characterized by light, graceful, fluid movements and the use of pointe shoes. These aspects of this artistic dance alone paint a picture of the most beautiful performance, but Wendy Whalen’s captivating dancing is beyond anything we could have ever imagined.

When she retired from the New York City Ballet in 2014, Whelan said,

“I still have so much dancing in me, so much to say. It’s not an end.”

 With so much left to say, Wendy is back on tour. You won’t want to miss her stop in Northwest Arkansas, she is sure to put on one of her most captivating performances to date!

The New York Times calls her America’s greatest contemporary ballerina. Her entrancing dancing with the New York City Ballet has thrilled audiences for 29 years. Wendy Whelan’s elegant movement and intelligent approach to performing is legendary, and this has never been more vivid than in her new project, Restless Creature. Whelan collaborates with four young and prodigious choreographers in a suite of new duets performed by Whelan and each choreographer in turn. The choreographers’ unique styles stretch Whelan’s artistry in unexpected ways as she adapts to each distinct vision while maintaining her own glowing individuality.

Because our 10x10 Arts Series focuses on creating a space for audience/artist interaction, we sat down with Wendy to really get to the root of where her inspiration comes from and find out what it is that makes her artistry so unique. 

1)One might say that you’ve been a choreographer’s muse throughout your ballet career. Yet, the roles are reversed in Restless Creature. Was this intentional?

I never thought the roles were ever clearly or evenly reversed in Restless Creature, just that they were different. The creative impetus to explore these dynamic exchanges were ignited by me for this project, which is absolutely different than any other previous choreographer/muse relationship I have been a part of. I asked each choreographer not to cater to me or to my understood strengths as a ballet dancer but to challenge me into their own true non balletic style and vocabulary. I wanted to learn from them and be challenged by them and explore their artistry. I didn't play a big role in developing movement or the choreography or choosing music for any of these works. I just approved it all and then took what they gave me and tried to grow from the very challenge of the experience itself and tap into new parts of myself within the work of each choreographer. 


2)What moves you to create a new project (e.g.: a musical piece, life experience or choreographer)?

 I see work or hear about something or I get an itch to work with someone or that different style of something or someone that is new to me. 

It's usually something about the kind of work it is or the creator him or herself that I am drawn to or curious about. I am drawn to soulful, wise and deeply creative people. 


3)Choose 5 words to describe Restless Creature.

Empowering, liberating, challenging, honest and fun  


4)What does it feel like to go from dancing on pointe to dancing barefoot?

 I really Love it ... But It's still very new to me. I have recently had some skin issues that modern dancers get on their feet where the skin splits (on the sole of the foot) from dancing barefoot... A very different but equally painful dilemma similar to the blisters one gets from dancing on pointe. I like the connection to the floor and the naturalness of the bare feet, but there will never be anything quite like dancing on pointe... It's an other worldly feeling. 


5)What types of cultural spaces/places do you drawcreative inspiration from?

I love old buildings. especially buildings that are considered "ruins".  Buildings that have a ton of history and stories within their walls, sort of like the "ghosts" that come along with a place. Structures that are broken or falling apart... I am especially drawn to old movie houses and theaters. I love imagining what these places used to be like and all the life and emotion that once flowed through the space and the great times and memories that were born and lived fleetingly in them

I also love the outdoors and laying in the grass or autumn leaves.  I love the smell of fresh cut grass or a smoky fire pit. I love things and places that evoke birth and death. My favorite seasons have always been and will always be, Spring and Fall.

6)Whom do you define as visionary?

Artists or thinkers who break the mold, challenge ideas or redefine certain ideals within their field. In dance, I'd say people like Balanchine, Cunningham, Baryshnikov, Ailey, Graham, Forsythe, Piña Bausch, Arthur Mitchell, Jacques d'Amboise, Yvonne Rainer, Carmen de Lavallade.  



7)Did you notice any changes—mind or body—during your transition from the “strong and controlled” ballerina to the fierce and free dancer that you are today?

Yes, I noticed that I started to feel my own unique beauty coming to life and a certain amount of self love and self acceptance growing within me. I felt a softness and a truth begin to emerge and a different kind of confidence and a different kind of wit and humor generating within me. I always compare it to a crack in the sidewalk ...... The crack reveals the imperfection where grass and life can now grow, and water and oxygen can flow. 


8)Does your current work connect to the larger world?

Absolutely ! That's what I want most now from my life in dance.


9)What is the best advice you’ve been given?

" Don't look back..."  

Which is a really hard thing for someone like me to do .... as someone who "loves to daydream about the history and memories of old decrepit buildings"...  :) 

10)In another life, what profession would you have chosen—or would you still choose ballet?

 I very much enjoyed my time in the ballet world... if I knew I'd have the same ballet relationships in another lifetime I'd do it all again. The relationships I have cultivated within all my years of ballet have been EVERYTHING to me and have been the most meaningful aspect of my time spent within that world. But I am finding these relationships within the more general open world of dance too. I think just having the ability to simply live the life of a dancer will always and eternally be the life I would wish for. 

Come Experience Wendy Whelan’s captivating performance.* April 18 at Walton Arts CenterVisit http://www.waltonartscenter.org/tickets-events/10x10-arts-series/ to learn more.