This story originally appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of Pointe.
This November, recently retired New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan will return to the stage alongside her longtime NYCB partner Jock Soto. The Brooklyn Academy of Music will present Hagoromo, a production directed by Whelan's husband, the artist David Michalek.
Hagoromo is a classic story of Japanese Noh theater, which dates to the 14th century and combines music, storytelling and dance. The story tells of a humble fisherman who finds an angel's robe and must return it to her so that she doesn't die. The show will feature contemporary choreography by David Neumann and three silicone puppets, cast from Whelan's own body, by Chris Green. Pointe spoke with Whelan before the premiere.
Why were you drawn to this project?
Both David and I have long shared a love of Japanese aesthetic. David always has a million ideas and I hear about them since we share a life together. But this one was special because it was about the chemistry between Jock and I, our maturity and experience, and how there are things we can do better now than ever. I knew he was attracted to Jock's stage presence and how it resonates similarly with the aesthetic of Noh theater. There is still something rich and deep that can be performed, and I think it is a rare thing to be showing.
How are you using your ballet background in this show?
So far it is totally different than ballet. The only similarity is the emotional intensity it requires. Both the body and the design are not balletic in nature, but I can't help but bring ballet to anything I do. However, I am not thinking of arabesques, but rather more about following a line of intention with discipline.
Have you ever danced David Neumann's choreography or worked with puppets before?
No, the puppets and Neumann are an unknown to me. Neumann is known for being an awesome break dancer, and I am yet to be seen as renowned in that genre of dance. However, that's the fascinating and challenging part, and I look forward to accentuating the movement of the joints and exploring more sliding movements on the floor. Though we have played and improvised a bit, working on a few of the Noh motifs and ideas, I think a lot of the movement will be putting pieces together to forge links: between the ancient and the modern, between the Neumann and the Whelan, between the puppets and the performer.