Wednesday, 9 January 2013

One of the many characteristics that makes Wendy Whelan a supreme artist isn't her willingness to take risks. Rather, it's her complete joy in riskiness. At this point in her career, Whelan can do anything-- and the most amazing part is her excitement-- "I absolutely feel a freedom, immense amounts of it!," she says, "... almost too much since it's all new to me, and I am feeling so game to try anything. It's a wonderful, empowering, scary and extremely joyful place to be."  

Her freedom shines while she rehearses a new pas de deux, set by her dance partner,  Brian Brooks.  Brooks, a celebrated contemporary choreographer, has been working with Whelan on the work's development for several months. Their connection seems authentic, fluid, and easy. "We have an awesome chemistry," says Whelan. " I believe and hope this connection translates to the work. I've always been labeled a contemporary ballerina because of my angles and my energy and quirks. I also think ... my way of thinking and how I make my way through the world, adds to this. I have a modern sensibility.  I love to dig, I love grit, and I love to explore."   

Their connection absolutely does translate into the work. The chemistry between Whelan and Brooks looks as natural as any I've seen, and makes for an energy that exudes delicious, lyrical, tensile movement rarely seen on the American stage. 

This section the two rehearse is from a larger work in progress, an evolving, evening-length dance. One of the challenges Whelan welcomes is the work's newness, its unfinished-ness: "The partnering in this piece is definitely still in a developmental phase, mainly because I am not used to Brian's style as a partner. I'm not even used to the design of the piece -- because it's so new.   It's extremely complex with fast partnering, so we are constantly challenging ourselves each time we attempt these new phrases. Many people have compared the first movement of the piece to body-weaving, as that's literally what we are doing with each other physically. We really have to try to be single-minded with two bodies during this section. This challenge takes time when a partnership is new, so we're really trying to think at the same level of intensity and musicality throughout."  

This is just one example of the many nuances that make watching the rehearsal process of this work so exciting and invigorating. We hold our breath as the dancers move together and apart. We let it out because we trust them to exceed our hopes. And they will. Certainly, they will. 

As Whelan tells us-- "Brian has brought new breath and energy to my body, and a new kind of dance puzzle to my mind. It's been one of the most joy-filled and challenging experiences I have ever experienced as a dancer.  To me, as a dancer, there's nothing as delicious to me than a joy filled challenge."   

Don't miss this New York premiere of Wendy Whelan's exciting new project, with a sneak preview at Guggenheim's Works & Process. Is this what balletomanes might expect from Wendy Whelan?  "My hope is to surprise people, and I hope to surprise myself as well," she says. What wonderful, ambitious, inspiring surprises are in store for us!    

--Marika Brussel

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