Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

Time is the fire in which we burn.

Apologies to Dr. Soran. This may be the first time a review for a ballet documentary includes a Star Trek quote. Consider it a land bridge from nerds and CGI space battles to the world of the ballet. I know nothing about ballet. To such a degree in fact, that my being in a room with dance aficionados would make everyone else in the room dumber about dance. The documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan introduced me to this universe of movement and passion.

“…years of dance had done great damage to her hip.”

Regarding the fire: Wendy Whelan was 47 years of age when this documentary was made. She’d been studying ballet since age 3 and had been with the New York City Ballet for 30 years. The years of dance had done great damage to her hip and this documentary follows her through the surgery to repair it and her recovery and return to ballet for a time.  To say a ballerina moves with quiet grace seems redundant, but I saw Black Swan so I suspect there can be prima donna drama. Wendy Whelan is contained, graceful, and gracious.

What struck me most about this experience was not the surgery and recovery, though that was nothing short of amazing, but rather the unflinching determination she had to return to her role in the ballet. It’s also remarkable that despite her fame in the world of dance, Wendy is unaffected. She cares about the dance and not the fame and prestige of her extremely rare accomplishment. Less advanced souls would have been jumping up and down and shouting “I’m still dancing at 47! I was in the New York City mothafuckin Ballet for 30 mothafuckin years, bitches!” She just wanted to dance.

She was also completely open about her injuries and her body, and again I found this amazing. This person whose life’s work is focused on the art she makes with the instrument of her body talked in clinical terms about what the years of abuse meant and where it all might be going. Bare emotions radiate from her as she considers her loss and what the future might hold.

She spoke of the intensity of her relationships to the dance, the music, and also to her dance partners.

In 2014 she did retire from the New York City Ballet to tears and great acclaim.

“Restless Creature, indeed, she is constantly reinventing herself.”

For Wendy Whelan retirement did not mean beach and books in Provence, it meant moving to less rigorous forms of dance. During her career post-ballet in 2015 she did have to have full hip replacement, but still came back again in modern dance. Restless Creature, indeed, she is constantly reinventing herself.

As for the film, directors Saffire and Schlesinger performed an astonishing bit of magic: they managed to make a cranky old Trek fan understand and care about ballet and the dancers, if only for 90 minutes. Brava! Nicely done!

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan  (2017) Directed by:Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger. Starring: Wendy Whelan

8 out of 10

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