Photo from NY Magazine

Photo from NY Magazine

For any dancer (artist) who has even entertained the idea of transitioning, the vulnerable sea of surfaced emotions is, unsurprisingly, a shameless reality.

I say unsurprising because naturally, creatures of art tend to tie up their identity with their profession/passion…they dedicate their lives and livelihoods, sacrificing most remnants of normalcy to make their dreams a reality. The idea of separating yourself from this is seemingly impossible, simply because it actually is close to it.

It’s been a shy year since I chose to retire as a ballerina to pursue my long-forgotten education and to explore new life chapters. I haven’t written too much about these transformative months here, but this past weekend I received cathartic affirmation of my decision through a documentary and realized it was due time to share the words/thoughts responsible for many a sleepless night…

Restless Creature follows one of the most celebrated ballerinas of our time, Wendy Whelan, through her final, (30th!) year dancing with New York City Ballet. It rides with her, the emotional rollercoaster faced by all dancers who face/consider transitioning, not to mention potentially career ending injuries. To say Wendy embodies the essence of grace and strength is a gross understatement. Beyond her natural talent, she emits genuine beauty from the inside out, from the street to the stage. She dances, speaks, and lives with a je ne sais quoi that cannot be taught, but merely shared and received by all so blessed to experience her presence.

As I sat there, following her brave, honest journey through this thankless career, I could not help but acknowledge the flood of emotions I felt resonating from my very (still recovering) toes.

Among so many poignant truths, the film touches on the inherent patriarchy woven into the profession of ballet from its very beginning, nodding to the lack of control dancers have over their careers. The irony here is that for (super)humans who spend their lifetimes learning to control their every movement, we’re left with little to no control over the direction and display of our potential. For few, time and place allow for a *seemingly* organic progression to the top, for others, we learn to shift our perspectives to acknowledge success on “the sidelines”.

Regardless of years spent as a Swan, a Sylph, a Willie, a Flower, a Snowflake….regardless of the glamour associated with calling yourself a professional ballet dancer – the reality of such a profession paints a sorely different picture than the flagrant, political truths which plague ballet companies *and their dancers* far and wide.

Since I’ve been back in school, I have come across so many pioneers of change, of progress and discovery… I can’t help but tie these stories into my own, reflecting/comparing in an effort to understand my own journey while learning from the paths of others.

The one revolutionary pillar of purpose that I keep coming back to is the voice. The power we have, within each and every one of us, to simply use our voice. To share our story that it might resonate with (at least) one other person in this great, big world…who then, might walk away feeling self-assured, or inspired to pay it forward.

Within us, we have the power to vouch for our value, to challenge professional stigmas, to shake the bonds of outdated tradition. 

I can’t stop thinking about this delicious quote I read recently in Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas:

“…songs of the singers rise naturally from the lives of the livers.”

We all carry the capacity to fine-tune this instrument of communication, of progress, of pain & passion… Wendy exposed the emotional binaries that all dancers (humans) face, but few choose to share… fear/bravery, doubt/courage, defeat/resilience, weakness/strength.

She told her story as it was still in the making, no guaranteed happily ever after, no filter.

The song she sung, inspired, challenged, molded by the life she lived.

I’m not sure why the profession of dance has progressed in so many ways choreographically, but remains tied to archaic conventions of administrative jurisdiction. It is beyond frustrating to bond over the lack of communication afforded to dancers world-wide, and seems impossible to accept the loss of voice within a career that spotlights some of the richest capabilities of human capacity.

My first semesters back in school have been nothing if not *entirely* politically charged…I found this review by the Hollywood Reporter to be entertainingly apropos:

“In a presidential election year in which questions concerning “stamina” have been hurled at the female candidate like a dirty word, [Restless Creature] is inspiring.”

To every dancer, artist and person passionate for their craft and curious of their capacity…please go and share Wendy’s journey, coming to theaters on May 24th, 2017.

Finally, a Standing O to the brilliant creatives behind this work of he(ART), Directors/Producers Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger and Diana Dimenna.

the {voice} of a restless creature brews within each of us.

let’s sing our songs.

s.e.

Release Date: May 24, 2017

https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2016/films/restless-creature-wendy-whelan/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/restless-creature-wendy-whelan-review-934804