Wendy Whelan joined the New York City Ballet in 1984 as an apprentice and became its principal dancer in 1991. She is a highly respected and beloved figure in the dance world. Whelan is followed as she confronts the limitations that time has placed on her body and learns to adapt to a new role in the dance community.
For her inaugural independent project, Restless Creature, Wendy chose four young choreographers — Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Bryan Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo — each of whom created a duet for himself and Wendy. All four are presented on a single program that shows Wendy’s incredible range and uncanny ability to absorb and communicate challenging choreographic languages.
In 1983, New York City Ballet cofounder George Balanchine passed away, leaving an indelible legacy behind and signaling the end of an era. Among the new guard ushering in the next age of ballet was powerhouse Wendy Whelan. Named apprentice at the company in 1984 and eventually principal dancer in 1991 (the same year Irving Penn photographed her for Vogue), Whelan’s career at NYCB reached a staggering and record-setting 30 years—double that of most ballerinas.
In 2011, when Wendy Whelan was in her mid-forties and not yet ready for retirement, she was called into a meeting with the NYCB’s ballet master in chief Peter Martins. It was suggested she relinquish the role of The Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy—which Whelan had reprised every winter for 22 years—to give way to fresher talent. What followed was a string of injuries, a growing need for (and eventual) hip surgery, a farewell performance in 2014, and a documentary crew that captured every detail for the new film Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
The prima ballerina takes her final bow after three decades with New York City Ballet in this revealing documentary by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger.
There’s a tender image that speaks volumes near the end of Restless Creature, an intimate chronicle of New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan’s emotional departure from the company that had been her professional home for 30 years. While Whelan works with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and partner Tyler Angle in a small rehearsal room, developing a piece that will serve as the 47-year-old ballerina’s farewell performance, a growing cluster of bunheads from the School of American Ballet watches rapt outside the door. They appear to be contemplating their own futures in a punishing field in which most careers are over by 40, their faces a flickering collision of admiration and apprehension.
That’s not to infer that Whelan dances like somebody no longer in command. Even after undergoing hip reconstruction surgery and pushing herself hard through recuperative physical therapy, her sinewy body still moves with the angular grace and sensual intensity, the playfulness and dramatic complexity that made her such a distinctive star.