RESTLESS CREATURE: “If I Don’t Dance, I’d Rather Die.”
In Restless Creature, we follow nearly three decades of Wendy Whelan's career as a ballerina with the New York City Ballet.
We are introduced to a 46 year old Wendy Whelan, ‘America’s greatest contemporary ballerina’. Faced with a career-ending injury, the viewer is omnipresent throughout her recovery. The film is a brutally honest lesson in humility with profoundly heavy emotions tempered through humour.
Under the meticulous and fluid direction of Linda Saffire and Adam Schleslinger, we follow nearly three decades of Whelan’s career as a ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and become witness to her divergent transcendence to life after pointe shoes and the barre. Restless Creature is a story of both resurgence and reinvention. Unlike, Winona Ryder’s Beth McIntyre in Black Swan, it is also a tale of embracing the futility of aging with grace and dignity.
Whelan’s entrenched trust in the filmmakers is evident throughout the films entirety, showcasing a full range of emotions; her Herculean-like strength and sober control under harried circumstances to moments of frantic anxiety driven by her pending loss of identity. As a result of well crafted editing by Bob Eisenhardt, palpably tense surgery scenes are broken up with tedious physiotherapy sessions and bustling cocktail parties – giving the narrative a congruent pace.
The Ballerina Trailblazer
Living in a self dubbed, ‘fantasy world’, Whelan has lived a gifted career – evading injury for the most part. She believed herself to be unbreakable. During the film, we are shown an x-ray of Whelan’s 12 year old contorted spine, crippled into an ‘S’ by Scoliosis. She is described as someone who has changed the face of the profession by one of her colleagues.
Through a combination of first hand accounts and live footage snippets of conversation between Whelan and her many company members, both past and present. We are treated to a well rounded portrayal of both her personal qualities and professional credentials. This is then augmented by electrifying footage of some of her most celebrated performances by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. For longtime fans, the documentary also features her infamous partner, Jack Soto and their signature performance, ‘pas de deux‘.
No Shortage of Admirers
Whilst a dance enthusiast may be left wanting, we are treated to a real showcase of the plentiful talent of Wendy Whelan. I think the most profound scene, that serve to humanise the dance narrative is when she is choreographed by her close friends, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. Her passion is ignited and manifested for all to see in the 2014 farewell piece, ‘By 2 With & From’. The stage itself is overwhelmed with roses, when each company member graces the stage and individually presents Whelan with a singular rose.
The films biographic depiction of a midlife crisis and it’s evolution to a heartwarming and hopeful end is perhaps it’s greatest feat, reveling even the beauty of the ballet itself. Her grace and sensuality will unwavering attract admiration for years to come – unshackled from a dancer’s expected shelf life.
Perhaps acknowledging her acceptance of her change in career path, throughout the end credits a seemingly endless stream of pictures from Whelan’s own Instagram account – a virtual scrapbook of validation in her career diversification and beyond. I await with eager anticipation what will be next in Whelan’s career.
Is Restless Creature a true representation of the ballet vocation? Or is Black Swan a truer reflection? Tell us in the comments below.
Restless Creature will be showcased around the USA in selected theatres throughout June, July and August. For more information click here.
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