At 46, 'restless creature' Wendy Whelan is ready for more
BECKET -- "Restless Creature."
It’s an interesting title, filled with all kinds of implications and possibilities, and the one that Wendy Whelan, the New York City Ballet principal dancer, has chosen for her foray into modern dance, on stage of the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival through Sunday
"I like it a lot too," Whelan agreed during a recent interview from Chapel Hill, N.C., where the show was receiving its final touches. "I wanted to use the word ‘creature,’ a strong word for me. People compare me more to a creature than a ballerina.
"My dancing is so like that of a creature. I also love the word ‘create,’ which is in that."
As for "restless," Whelan reflected on being a professional ballerina for 29 years.
"When you get to the pinnacle of what you are going to learn," she said, "when they turn to young ballet dancers, I wasn’t ready to stop learning, building my knowledge -- that’s why I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I was restless.
"And it’s where I found myself after a long career, eager for more."
For "Restless Creature," an evening-length suite of contemporary duets commissioned by the Pillow, Whelan enlisted the talents of four contemporary choreographers, each with his own unique style: Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo. Each is performing his dance in a duet with Whelan.
Whelan conceded feeling quite intimidated working with four choreographers.
"Because they’re choreographers, they’ve cultivated their own movement styles, actually their own DNAs, not necessarily mine," she explained. "For me to step into that DNA (in each case) is really challenging. I’ve learned so much from these guys."
Beamish is the youngest of the quartet of dance makers, at 26 -- "20 years younger than me, to the date, May 7," she noted.
Beamish named his dance "Waltz Epoca." And from him Whelan said she learned and admired his attention to detail, "that and his physical articulation are unparalleled, just the way he can isolate the different parts of his body; the order he decides on is fascinating to me."
Cerrudo, who created "Ego Et Tu" for Whelan, comes from a ballet base, she explained. "From the Stuttgart ballet, he converted to contemporary dance through Jirí Kyilián of the Nederlands Dans Theater, and now he is the resident choreographer of Hubbard Street Dance. I’m a huge fan of that company."
Cerrudo, she said "pushed me in lengthening my body on a very low reaching level - ‘Reach farther, step out beyond yourself in your movement.’ Everything is very wide and long, so he is sort of the antithesis of Josh in a lot of ways. I like that they are back-to-back (in the program). He’s more languid and more supple in his style."
In a separate interview, Kyle Abraham explained his dance "The Serpent and the Snake."
"I like so much sci-fi stuff, sci-fi books, moviesŠ There’s folklore about a snake that sees the movement of smoke and becomes transfixed with it. It thinks it’s finding a suitor, only to discover it’s only an illusion."
"Kyle Abraham is a fireball," exclaimed Whelan. "He’s like dancing fire; you can’t predict where his body is going to go. It’s just unbelievable, and it’s such power, intensity. He’s taught me a lot about freeing up my upper body, freeing up my spine.
"He asked what I wanted from him, and I asked him to transform me. He really built his piece around our relationship."
Brooks’ piece, now called "First Fall," was the first to be choreographed, and Whelan said she and Brooks started it more than a year ago. "We’ve actually performed parts of it more than any other piece. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done."
While Whelan was pondering "Restless Creature," she said Damian Woetzel, her former fellow City Ballet principal dancer and now director of arts programs for the Aspen Institute, had asked her to make a piece with Brooks. "So it all came about at the same time. It couldn’t have been better.
"People ask me about this piece," she said. "I can’t think about doing it with my own body. I can’t separate it. I have to be with another body to make sense of the piece -- his body. The piece really needs four legs, four arms, four eyes and two brains. It’s really a creature piece that can’t be done without all those extra limbs and body parts.
"We realized early on that this piece is very co-dependent, built on that relationship of really needing the other person. It has given me confidence. He was the first one I worked with, to go in and try my first baby steps in this world.
"He welcomed me with open arms and the personal joy of diving into this work with him."
Who: Wendy Whelan
What: "Restless Creature"
When: Tonight through Sunday. Eves.: Thu.-Sat. 8. Mats.: Sat., Sun. 2
Where: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ted Shawn Theatre, 358 George Carter Road, Becket
How: (413) 243-0745; jacobspillow.org
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