Catching Up with Wendy Whelan

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.

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

The History of Pointe Shoes: The Landmark Moments That Made Ballet's Signature Shoe What It Is Today

Pointe shoes, with their ability to elevate a dancer both literally and metaphorically to a superhuman realm, are the ultimate symbol of a ballerina's ethereality and hard work. For students, receiving a first pair of pointe shoes is a rite of passage. The shoes carry an almost mystical allure: They're an endless source of lore and ritual, with tips, tricks and stories passed down over generations.

The history of pointe shoes reveals how a delicately darned slipper introduced in the 1820s has transformed into a technical tool that offers dancers the utmost freedom onstage today.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Coming Back to Ballet After Years Away Has Saved Me During the Pandemic Shutdown

I was 4 years old when I took my first ballet lesson. My mom had dressed me in a pink leotard with matching tights, skirt and slippers. She drove me on a Saturday morning to a ballet academy in downtown Caguas, the town in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I don't remember much from the first lesson, but I do recall the reverence. My teacher Mónica asked the class if someone wanted to volunteer to lead. She was surprised I—the new girl—was the one to raise my hand.

I made up most of the steps, mimicking the ballerinas I had seen on TV and videos. At one point, Mónica stepped in and asked me to lead the class in a bow. I followed her directions and curtseyed in front of the mirror with one leg behind me and a gentle nod. I looked up to find myself in awe of what I had just done.

This was the same feeling I had when, after years away from dance, I finished my first YouTube ballet class at home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks