Few ballerinas are as adventurous as New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan. “I like to be the paint and the brush,” she says, “but just not the person holding the brush.” At the Guggenheim’s Works & Process this weekend, Whelan discussed and performed excerpts of "Restless Creature," a suite of duets created collaboratively with contemporary dancer-choreographers Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo.
Each choreographer described his distinct process of working with Whelan, but they all seemed to relish her willingness to experiment. “She is not even a diva trying not to be a diva,” said Cerrudo. Unlike the neoclassical ballet pieces Whelan is familiar with, her new duets require her to dance in soft shoes or barefoot. She jokingly described dancing without pointe shoes as a liberating experience—“like taking a bra off!”
Whelan and Brooks gave audiences a preview of First Fall. Brooks, whose movement quality is more grounded and earthbound, partnered Whelan in a non-balletic way. There was a generous give-and take of each other’s weight as they moved through space. What really surprised me was how well Whelan was able to adapt to the style while maintaining her iconic artistry.
As with all collaborations, a certain kind of trust and chemistry is needed. “Pas de deux heaven is different for each couple,” said Whelan. “It is a natural thing you just arrive at, and with each of these gentleman something extraordinary is coming out that you just can’t predict.”
"Restless Creature" will have its world premiere at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, August 14-18. Here's a preview: