REDMILK MEETS AMERICAN DANCER WENDY WHELAN. CONSIDERED ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP DANCER, SHE HAS BEEN A PRINCIPAL DANCER WITH THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET AND A GUEST ARTIST AT THE ROYAL BALLET AND THE KIROV BALLET. SHE HAS PERFORMED ALL OVER THE WORLD, FROM AMERICA TO ASIA, AND HAS RECEIVED VERY IMPORTANT AWARDS. MEET WENDY AND DISCOVER BALLET’S STRENGTH AND SPIRITUALITY.
When you did start to dance?
I started dancing when I was three years old.
What is the art of dance for you?
It’s one of the most, if not the most primal art form – Offering the deepest form of personal expression – using our full body as our instrument. It’s where I most naturally go to to transform my energy and my consciousness. Having access to this art form has helped me transform my thinking and my actions. It’s my passion, it’s my solace and it’s brought me to a level of soul connection (within myself and to others) that I never would have imagined finding or experiencing otherwise in my life.
What do you remember of your youth spent training at the Louisville Ballet Academy?
I remember at that time, feeling like I’d been given access to this “other” world of beauty ….. a new kind of focus, of thinking and actions. The people and the energy “at ballet” were so different than people I knew in other aspects of my life. I found these “artistic” people incredibly inspiring. It was like going into a “camera lens” that was refocused on a different kind of beauty and thought process… I loved everything about it – the bodies, the music, the smells of the wood, leather and rosin. I loved the openness and the discipline and humor of the artists. It was the sensual, mental and physical overload of this different kind of beauty that caused a flowering within me – it spoke to me on a very deep level.
Which were the biggest challenges you faced at the beginning of your career?
I was blessed with what most people would consider a good body for ballet – (Long arms and legs, small bones, pliable feet, good proportions) but I also had a lot of nervous energy as a kid and that got in the way of my picking up steps and combinations. I always felt a bit uncoordinated and slow to learn when being challenged by tricky passages or new movements. This definitely held me back at certain times of my life when I felt flummoxed by new ideas and new material.
Besides that, a very big life challenge came along was when I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 12. I was put into a 6 month treatment of traction and body casting to try to halt the development of the curvature in my spine. That treatment was followed by 3 years in a back brace. A brace from my neck to my pelvis that I wore at all times except when I was dancing.
That was quite a scary time for me… not knowing if my body would respond to the treatment or if having scoliosis would hinder my hopes for the future as a dancer.
What are the most important and emotional moments which led to a turning point in your professional life?
Having a serious injury or anything like that, that has broken me from of a comfortable pattern is often scary, alarming and always a wake-up call. Even having a terribly broken heart has pushed me, in dramatic ways, toward new and unexpected levels of development. The saddest moments where I have felt most lost have always opened me up to a new and empowering strength from within. Both life and art connect deeply at these times and facing these difficult shifts have always brought me to a new level of artistry and self knowledge.
What is the meaning of the body and the movement in your work?
The body and movement, along with the heart and mind are EVERYTHING in my work. A healthy body that can access expression within movement is what I strive for each day as a dance artist. I spend my life in a constant practice of movement- toward clarity and potency of personal physical expression.
The beauty in your work, how important is that?
My idea of beauty has developed and changed a lot over time, and it’s always played a role in how I shape what I do. From my early years as a dancer looking at and understanding beauty from the outside in. I saw the external physical shaping of beauty – My understanding of it now, as a mature artist, is more from the inside out. Over time, I have been able to connect beauty with wisdom and allow an ease to come into play and a “less than perfect” humanness to enter my work. As I have matured I seek to creatively cultivate beauty from the inside out and make connections to others with that part of myself. I find it to be a stronger, more potent, active and radiant kind of beauty and I believe it gives my artistry a new kind of longevity with a deeper and lasting impact.
From yesterday to today, what has changed the world of ballet?
Besides a huge influx of strong contemporary work being performed by all the major ballet companies around the world and the ever advancing technical prowess of today’s dancers – I think the way social media and the internet is being used for ballet has definitely changed things. The internet provides such an incredible, historical vault of information. YouTube and Instagram among so many other millions of sites are filled with images and articles with not only infinite ways to develop and learn but also plenty of ways to promote oneself. It’s remarkable how the internet can be used …Especially for the development of ballet fans and as a learning guide for young dancers.I am not a fan though of how easily the internet can become a billboard for narcissism and vanity. This is something I spot a mile away and am always suspicious of.
If you hadn’t become a dancer, what would you have done in your life?
Something having to do with the saving, protecting or healing of animals.
What is your favorite dance step?
I don’t have a favorite dance step. My favorite moments happen during my practice or performance when I find a new connection within a passage, in linking one or more steps to another. It’s never one step but always the blending of multiple steps that I find endlessly fascinating and exhilarating. I don’t have favorite steps but I do always find favorite moments and they can often differ day to day.
What other art form you love besides ballet?
Photos courtesy of Press Office