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Wendy Whelan's Restless Creature a Satisfying Experience

by Joanna G. Harris
January 15, 2015
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
415.978.ARTS (2787)
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
How does a mature artist realize a new dimension of his/her career?

For Wendy Whelan, much praised ballerina, recently retired from the New York City Ballet, where, for many years, she excelled in works by Balanchine and Robbins, the process involved finding new partners, in this case new dancer/choreographers, who would enlarge and differentiate her vocabulary and performance style. For "Restless Creature" she chose Joshua Beamish (MOVE Company), Brian Brooks (Brian Brooks Moving Company), Alejandro Cerruda (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago), Kyle Abraham (Abraham.in.Motion) to both choreograph and partner her.

Cerrudo's "Ego et Tu" (2013) began with him in a remarkable solo. A Spanish and European trained dancer, his ability to articulate upper body motion, jumps and twists was intriguing.

The score was a medley of works by Richter, Glass, Arnold and Bryars. When Whelan entered, she employed similar gesture of arms, head and torso. Such movement vocabulary is rarely seen in more conventional ballet but she makes it her own. She is very skilled and marvelous to watch. What was missing, for this reviewer, was the power, presence and lower body action that was once her forte. She no longer wears pointe shoes. She had hip surgery in 2012.

"Conditional Sentences" (2015) to Bach's Partita No.2 in C minor, recalled a classical style of gesture and partnering reflecting the music. Joshua Beamish choreographed and partnered Whelan in this gentle piece, for this reviewer, a more satisfying work of contemporary ballet. Although Whelan has danced the work of modern choreographers, Wheeldon, Forsythe, Ratman, McGregor, Elo and Tharp, this had more charm.

Abraham's "The Serpent and the Smoke" (2013) was a strangely lit work to music by Hauschka & and Hildur Guonadottir.
Abraham, who has created works for the Alvin Ailey Company, was often not visible as strong upstage lights burned into the house. Whelan continued her exploration of contemporary gesture, this time with more lifts and moments of balance.

Finally, it was most satisfying to see "First Fall" (2012), a work done with Brian Brooks, which concentrated on a series of full body falls. Whelan fell on Brooks' back over and over as he moved around the stage catching her is suspended moments and making each fall visible from many dimensions. It is the kind of choreography that makes a clear statement, provides the audience with a study in skill and accomplishment and deserves the ovation it received. Again the score was a potpouri of works by Philip Glass.

Whelan deserves much praise at age 48 to continue her career with such experimentation and challenge. This reviewer however, misses the authority and projection that was so moving in her earlier career.
The cast of 'restless Creature' L-R: Joshua Beamish, Kyle Abraham, Wendy Whelan, Alejandro Cerruda and Brian Brooks.

The cast of "restless Creature" L-R: Joshua Beamish, Kyle Abraham, Wendy Whelan, Alejandro Cerruda and Brian Brooks.

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Duggan

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