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Ten minutes with New York City Ballet Principal Wendy Whelan

Wendy Whelan on dancing without pointe shoes and connecting with the audience.

By Lottie Butler (Assistant Content Producer)

10 July 2014 at 1.11pm | 2 Comments

Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature will have its European premiere in the ROH's Linbury Studio Theatre later this month on 22 July.

Wendy, a principal with New York City Ballet who is widely regarded as ‘America’s greatest contemporary ballerina’, has created roles in 13 ballets for Royal Ballet Artistic Associate Christopher Wheeldon, as well as roles for Royal Ballet Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor.

She is now working with four up-and-coming choreographers – Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo – to create a series of duets performed with the choreographers themselves.

Ahead of opening night, we asked what she likes about contemporary dance:

After over 25 years as a lead ballerina with New York City Ballet, what is it like to now be focusing on contemporary dance?

It is so refreshing. It is a very energizing source of creativity. It’s like carrying a big glass of nice cool water in the desert. It is so different that it is inspiring.

How are the demands on the body different in contemporary dance compared with classical rep?

Contemporary movement demands a very different way of shifting your weight. I have had to learn to re-direct my energy from ethereal balletic movement, and to find more earthy movement. Similarly, now that I’m not wearing pointe shoes, I have to use my feet differently. I also have had to find a new level of articulation within my upper body; ballet is so structured, whereas modern dance is more ‘liquidy’.

What do you like about performing in small studios and theatres?

I love dancing in smaller spaces with less people. It enables you to simplify things and focus on the detail and quality of movement. I enjoy establishing a connection with the audience, and it’s really fun to play with this when you’re a little closer.

The audience sees much more of the dancer when they are at close range; they start to feel the dancer and understand what they are doing. The relationship becomes more and more revealing. It is much more exposed for the dancer, and I love it!

What made you want to work with Kyle, Joshua, Brian and Alejandro?

It’s hard to say what drew me to their work. It was like tasting a flavour with your eyes, and knowing that you want more. I hadn’t worked with them before, but I am now very close with all of them.

How does the collaboration work?

Each choreographer was free to create their own work, and then they tailored the movement to fit me. I hadn’t previously worked with any of them, but we soon found a way to trust each other and voice different opinions.

Every choreographer works differently. In this programme, I want to highlight what is unique about the chemistry in each duet.

What music is the work set to?

A lot of the work is set to contemporary composers, like Philip Glass and Max Richter. It’s very modern, and feels streamlined and sleek. We’ve kept it simple and there aren’t a lot of instruments, which makes it feel more intimate.

Do the duets follow a narrative or are they self-contained?

We didn’t intentionally craft a narrative programme, but we wanted to find an arc that links the four pieces.  In my estimation, the piece opens like a flower. At the beginning, it is a tight bud and the movement is more balletic, but as the programme goes on, the movement unravels. By the end, everything has opened up and fully flowered.

Wendy Whelan: Restless Creatures runs 22–26 July 2014. Tickets are still available. 

By Lottie Butler (Assistant Content Producer)

10 July 2014 at 1.11pm

This article has been categorised Dance and tagged by Wendy Whelan, Dance, interview, modern dance, Production, Restless Creature, Wendy Whelan, Wendy Whelan Restless Creature

This article has 2 comments

  1. Wendy is so dynamic and musical- neither of which is reliant on pointe shoes. I remember watching her as the lead in Adam Hougland's 'Rite of Spring' when I was a trainee with Louisville Ballet. It was so incredible to watch her perfect technique in class and think, 'well, she just has it all' and then to watch even a rehearsal, where suddenly the anatom is greater than the sum of it's parts, just like her. A great lady. Also, I love Brian Brooks- he set a piece to LCD Soundsystem that is one of the best things I've seen in my dance and dance-viewing life. Great article!

  2. Terranullius responded on 16 July 2014 at 12:50pm Reply

    You should have asked her why she did not chose any female choreographer. She probably was recommended by someone else, and that person did not make her aware of the young female choreographers that exist.

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