Wendy Whelan film opening in theaters

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan documentaryStarting today, May 24, the intimate documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan is opening in two New York City theaters – at the Film Forum in Hudson Square (running till June 6) and in the 140-seat Francesca Beale Theater that’s a part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (running till May 30). Soon the film will be screening in numerous locations across the U.S., including in Whelan’s home state of Kentucky.


Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan follows prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to leave New York City Ballet after a record-setting three decades with the company. Directed by Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger, the 90-minute documentary was named as part of the Official Selection of the 2016 New York Film Festival.


This week, New York Times Dance Critic Brian Seibert wrote, “Restless Creature is tightly edited but patient, with as many uneventful scenes of physical therapy and cocktail parties as more dramatic footage of surgery and is-she-pushing-too-hard suspense. Ballet dancers are experts in masking pain. But through trust established between the filmmakers and Ms. Whelan, this film allows us to see her stoic control, her superhuman strength under pressure, and also to see through it — to the self-doubt, the fear of losing her very identity.”


Dance Informa was invited to view the film early as well and completely agrees that it’s “both a comeback story and, more profoundly, a coming to terms with aging.” It reflects on how much Whelan and all prima ballerinas sacrifice for their art and how that makes it that much harder when it’s time to transition off the ballet stage and out of the spotlight. It makes one cheer for their longevity and hope that they’ll be free to discover other artistic opportunities, like Whelan did with her Restless Creature National Tour.


However, the documentary is also a powerful testament to other elements of the dance world: the necessity of informed, fulltime physical therapists for companies; the deep relationships dancers make with their onstage partners; and how hard it can be for a dancer to navigate their personal publicity when they’re in a season of transition.


The documentary opens with Whelan at age 46 in 2013. One of the joys of the film is looking back on her career with her as the directors frequently feature snippets of her historic performances. These even include footage of her dancing as a very young girl in her hometown of Louisville.


At one point near the beginning of the documentary Whelan says, “If I don’t dance, I’d rather die.” As you watch her grapple with her injuries and her unsure future, you come to see how much this fascinating and fantastic artist really means it.


For more information on Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan and upcoming screenings, visit www.restlesscreaturefilm.com.


Photo: Wendy Whelan in releve. Photo courtesy of Got The Shot Films.