When ballet icon Wendy Whelan met contemporary choreographer Brian Brooks at Fire Island five years ago, she had no idea it would lead to a larger collaboration. Now, the two are performing a program of solos and duets called Some of a Thousand Words. This month, they'll return to the Festival—a benefit for Dancers Responding to AIDS—to dance an excerpt. Pointe spoke with Whelan about the project.

Whelan with Brian Brooks in First Fall. Photo by Nir Arieli, Courtesy Whelan.

What draws you to the Fire Island Dance Festival?

I like that we're coming together for a benefit. It's more open-hearted than a gala. I've had a lot of very, very, very close people—mentors, partners, collaborators—who have died from AIDS or are dealing with AIDS or HIV today. They're some of the most important people I've connected with.

 

How does Brooks' partnering style differ from ballet?

What we've done together is very intertwined—our two bodies really need to rely on each other. It's not generally about one person, like Balanchine's idea of "ballet is woman." It's the antithesis of that. It's equal.

 

What about your solo on the program? Did you choreograph it?

No. Choreographing isn't my thing, but it is such Brian's thing. That said, he gave me certain material and asked me to arrange it. I got to blend what went into what, how it started, how it ended. So I almost choreographed it. [laughs] But I didn't. I am an arranger.

 

As students head into summer intensives this season, do you have any advice for them as they approach master classes with new teachers?

Just remember that teachers teach what they know--no teacher knows everything. Be open to what each has to offer. Take it, store it, and keep adding and building with other people's knowledge of the art form. And then hopefully--it did this for me--it will guide you to who you are as a dancer and what you like to do.

 

See Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks at the Fire Island Dance Festival, July 16-17, or enter our ticket giveaway below for their July 30 show at Jacob's Pillow.

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