Wendy Whelan talks about Restless Creature

Wendy Whelan talks about branching away from ballet for her new evening of duets, Restless Creature

Time Out New York: You can shade it in any way you want forever and ever.
Wendy Whelan:
Yes! But until you find it, you’re like how long do I do the jumping and the turning? I’m never going to find that.

Time Out New York: Because some dancers don’t. It’s opportunity and intelligence.
Wendy Whelan:
Luck, too.

Time Out New York: Don’t you have to have surgery soon?
Wendy Whelan:
I do. I have a [hip] labral tear. A lot of people have it. Some people can continue to dance through it. I’ve tried and tried and tried for the past ten months—I’ve tried everything—and it’s debilitated me to a certain level. I can’t do certain things or else I’ll spur it on and make myself immobile. So I’ve been able to maintain a certain level of physicality and performance to focus on certain things I can do until the premiere happens. And then I don’t have to do Nutcracker. I want to do the fall season, but I have to let it go. I’m having it August 27, a week after the Pillow. But Miranda [Weese] had it, Nikolaj [Hübbe] had it, Stephen Hanna—all these people, and I’ve talked to all of them. They’re like, “It’s the best thing, Wendy—you’ll get back 100 percent.” I hope. The tour resumes in March; hopefully, I’ll be back doing something at City Ballet. I don’t know. January–February. It depends on how I heal. I’m trying to get strong in certain areas and be really ready for the surgery so that when I make my recovery, the body is ready to start, so I’m trying to be wise beforehand to counter a lengthy recovery and to keep it as short as possible, but I just have to listen to my body.

Time Out New York: Do you think about when you’ll leave City Ballet?
Wendy Whelan:
Yes. I will be leaving, not too long off. Unless I come back and have bionic-woman hips! Which I might. I think there’s a certain time when you have to accept that it was a gift that you had and that you received so much from that gift and now it’s time for somebody else to have that gift. If I hang around and continue to do the roles, a lot of these younger people won’t necessarily get that opportunity. Maybe—I don’t know. And NYCB is a younger person’s company. That’s the material that Balanchine made. It’s for younger bodies. Certain things I could continue to do forever, but you can’t rely on that, and I want to handle a career with grace. I don’t want to outstay my welcome, which I probably already have. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: Never think that. What does modern mean to you?
Wendy Whelan:
I think it needs to have a concept. Maybe a source of inspiration. A thought behind it. An idea, a challenge within it. Modern also seems more mathematical to me; graphic and physics, and ballet is more like writing and poetry and languages and music. The other one feels a little more like science and math. Ballet doesn’t always have to have a concept and usually these choreographers—Brian and Josh have these designs…they all do. They have designs and a physics test that they want to do. An architectural study.

Time Out New York: Are you dancing in ballet slippers or on pointe?
Wendy Whelan:
No pointe! Bare feet, maybe socks. I know you don’t like socks so much.

Time Out New York: I hate socks.
Wendy Whelan:
I know. I’ve never done it before. Feels good though. And it’s all about feeling good right now! I remember reading that from you. They’re going to be flesh colored. They’ll be, like, naked.

Time Out New York: How high?
Wendy Whelan:
Low, low, as low as they can go.

Time Out New York: Okay, you’re selling me a little.
Wendy Whelan:
I’m going to try to make them as naked as possible so you don’t see them, but Kyle is making me wear black socks. [She sees how aghast I look and whispers] I’m sorry. I’ve never done it in my life. The bare feet I only did in 2013 with Brian. And then I did a little bit with Graham in “Moon” duet. I was really scared at first to take the shoes off. I think I said something on Facebook about it, and [Stephen] Petronio asked me, “Was it liberating or terrifying?” And I wrote back, “Liberating.” And he was like, “Good answer!”

Time Out New York: It feels nice, right?
Wendy Whelan:
I felt like I could really own something rather than ride in something. It’s such a different sensation. And then to get back into the pointe shoes for DSCH was like, Ah! But I can do this on pointe.

Time Out New York: I saw you in that, by the way—it was really amazing.
Wendy Whelan:
I love it so much. I feel like a different person from going out and learning this stuff and exploring and being so intimidated. I felt at home to go and do ballet.

Time Out New York: Is there a quality about your dancing that people don’t talk about but that is important to you?
Wendy Whelan:
I don’t know. Well, we talked about this before: a spiritual aspect, which I do feel and which I love. It’s something that I feel strongly; it’s weird to talk about or to write about, but it does feel like it’s really there. So that would be one thing. Maybe they talk about what a bad jazz dancer I am, because I’m pretty bad. It was funny when all the Americana things were happening this spring [at NYCB]; none of that stuff was my rep at all. It was just like, No, I don’t fit into that world. There are definitely clothes I don’t wear in the dance world. It’s okay. Other people wear them really well.
Restless Creature is at the 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival through Aug 18.

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