Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan is a documentary co-directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger. Whelan had an unprecedented thirty year career with the New York City Ballet, where she was a principle for many years, earning a reputation as one of the world’s finest dancers. That she became such a prolific career despite suffering from scoliosis (an x-ray of her spine essentially shows an “S”) was amazing, but at the age of 47, a hip injury and subsequent surgery leads her to face the reality of her aging body. She still fights back from her injury to dance one more season with the NYCB before moving on to explore other types of dance other than traditional ballet.
Restless Creature was very interesting, and Whelan proves to be a fascinating subject. While her thinness makes me cringe, the things she does with her body and the strength she has (I’m pretty sure you can see every muscle in her back when she stretches) is breathtaking. I found her psychological struggle to deal with quitting what she’s done since the age of four to be one of the most compelling elements of the film; during her surgery and convalescence and recovery, she laments feeling forgotten by her peers and is expecting the ax to fall from her bosses any time. However, this forces her to look at future options to channel her energy and I enjoyed watching her creative process.
There’s a scene in particular that I loved that features Wendy and her dance partner choreographing a piece after her surgery and a crowd of young ballerinas keeps growing outside of the rehearsal space, peeking in to watch one of their heroines. I just found it very touching and a tribute to Whelan’s legacy. Restless Creature features very little of Whelan’s background or even her current personal life (other than meeting her husband and the fact that they have an incredible kitchen in their apartment) and I think I would have liked to have seen more of where she came from since she has had such an amazing career. Still, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan was entertaining and contained some incredible performances.
You can view the trailer for Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan here.