SOME OF A THOUSAND WORDS
March 5, 2017
Following her retirement from New York City Ballet in 2014, Wendy Whelan was hardly done. After a fateful meeting during the Fire Island Dance Festival, where she saw contemporary dance choreographer Brian Brook’s work, they began working together. Their first collaboration, First Fall, became part of an evening where she danced three other duets by three other contemporary choreographers, but connection between Whelan and Brooks seems to have initiated something more long-lasting.
They couldn’t be more different: Whelan, a slight, balanced, fiercely balletic beauty that was a favorite principal of the NYCB audiences, moves as if she is skimming the surface. Brooks is a strong, muscular, grounded, earthy mover whose work comes from a modern dance lineage. Yet these two dancers move with a breathtaking fluidity and nearly flawless synchronicity throughout Some of a Thousand Words, the hour-long evening of dance, accompanied live by the euphonious Brooklyn Rider string quartet.
In the first movement, Brooks and Whelan, dance in tandem, a smooth combination of steps that swirl around the stage, and emphasize the circular path of their arms, sweeping up, over and around and through, while they step and turn, shift their weight, change direction together, with an astonishing precision in the angle of their bodies, arms, and timing. Although they do the same thing, there are subtle differences: his fingers will be pressed together and flat, while hers will have the slightest separation.
They seem to effortlessly and simultaneously inhabit each other’s worlds, and one of the felicitous aspects of this collaboration is that neither dancer is trying to subsume who they are, or their dancing past. Brooks is firmly modern, his movement has a grounded, and rounded quality, while Whelan is the ballerina we know, not trying to be “contemporary” or trying to hide her gorgeously arched feet, or her erect carriage of her spine, even as she articulates it in decidedly contemporary ways. The result is an absorbing union of very different dance disciplines that intrigues and articulates something new.
Perhaps the most emotionally moving section is the last: a the reprise of their duet First Fall, where Whelan, standing straight and arms out like a cross, timbers over Brooks in various directions in the classic exercise of trust. As she repeatedly falls on him in slow motion, he folds over and gently lowers them both to the ground. Sometimes he scurries on the ground with her on his back, at other times they walk around each other to a different place on the stage, and do it again. Accompanied by the yearning, melancholic sound of the Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 3, it evokes a fragile vulnerability, and our desperately human need for each other.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson