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Ballet Star Wendy Whelan Performs in World Premiere of Dance Piece in New Haven

Jun 23, 2016

New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas comes to a close this weekend. One of the finales is the world premiere of a commissioned dance piece called Some of a Thousand Words. It’s two nights only — Thursday and Friday. The work features two celebrated performers from vastly different dance backgrounds.

Former New York City Ballet star and principal dancer Wendy Whelan leaves her pointe shoes, pas de bourrées, and classical ballet restraint behind and partners with acclaimed contemporary choreographer Brian Brooks in their second project together — Some of a Thousand Words.

"I’m able to find what I deem as a wilder side of myself," Whelan said. "A more round, more weighted quality that wasn’t something a ballerina was, you know, asked to look for. Round and weighted -- it’s just not in the ballet vocabulary."

Whelan describes the intricate dance moves and challenging coordination of the solos and duets choreographed by Brooks as a little terrifying.

"If one person loses a moment it’s like a house of cards," Whelan said. "It could fall apart, but that’s part of the excitement and the thrill and the challenge, is holding it together."

Whelan spent 30 years with the New York City Ballet and left the company in 2014. She set out to write the next chapter of her dance life and said she couldn’t be happier about the work she’s accomplished with Brooks in this piece of work.

"We sort of improvised on developed material," Whelan said. "And that was frightening and exciting and liberating for me to do. And I think that’s what he’s looking for in that particular new section. So, that’s my solo. I’m very excited about that."

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks
Credit Erin Baiano

The project also incorporates live music performed by the New York-based string quartet, Brooklyn Rider. They use existing contemporary music from composers that include John Luther Adams, Philip Glass, and Tyondai Braxton as well as a new composition.

"One of the pieces is by Colin Jacobsen, who is the violinist with Brooklyn Rider," Whelan said. "He wrote a piece of music. We’re actually world premiering the music and world premiering the dance, on the same night, together, with him playing his music."

Some of a Thousand Words travels to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts next.