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Documentary on the great American Ballerina Wendy Whelan.
Directors: Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger
Star: Wendy Whelan
Review by Gilbert Seah
The RESTLESS CREATURE of the film title stands for the title of the ballet, ballerina and NYC Ballet Company’s principal dancer, Wendy Whelan is performing or it could stand for her restless character as well, one that would never give up dancing. “If I don’t dance, I’d rather die,” Whelan says at one point during an interview in the film.
The film definitely centres on Whelan and she has a lot to say in it. It is a world of ballet and discipline, dance torture to the body and decadence. Perfectly sculptured bodies everywhere! This is not the world that most people are familiar with. The same saying applies to the film. It is strictly for ballet and dance aficionados. Those not in that world will hardly sympathize with Whelan’s complaints. And she can be quite the cry baby, going on and on about herself.
The film is all about Whelan. The film traces her dancing as a very young girl in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, then as a teenager on her own in New York and, finally, as a rising ballerina with the company. At the time of the making of the documentary Whelan is in her 40’s. She is dancing still and competing with dancers half her age. Her body cannot take it. In fact no body can be put to such strenuous exertion. Whelan is finally feeling it and her doctors and therapists are advising her to give her body a rest. But she wants to do this last dance.
Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s documentary looks good on the surface with candid interviews with Whelan and her contemporaries. But upon closer examination, the film just skims the surface on nits subject. Where are her parents from? Nothing is mentioned of her personal life. Does she ever have a boyfriend or girlfriend for that matter? The directors also make no attempt at trying to have the audience connect with their subject. They lay out Whelan bare, warts and all hoping that that the audience feels for her. Whether they succeed depends on the person concerned, but it does not work for me. I find it hard to feel for a person, talented or gifted though they may be, who is so involved in their own world, also is constantly praising themselves and not considering the rest of the world
Whelan has got all her attention and glory and it is time for her to give the younger dancers a chance at the stage. The film also does not really show her dancing at her prime. The film does contain a few show of her performances like “La Sonnambula” and “Symphony in Three Movements by George Balanchine and The Cage by Jerome Robbins. There should be more of Whelan’s performances that demonstrate how hard ballet is for the body. The climax of the film shows Whelan’s performance of RESTLESS CREATURE.
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