What does it take to be a world class dancer, to defy odds and overcome adversity? Olympia has a rare opportunity to meet and learn from world-renowned, prima ballerina Wendy Whelan during “A Weekend with Wendy Whelan” January 27-28, 2018.
The retired New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal ballerina is the third star in a series of former NYCB dancers to visit Olympia over the last few years to teach and inspire local young dancers. Unlike previous visits by Zippora Karz and Jenifer Ringer brought in by Ballet Northwest, this incredible weekend, where the worlds of dance and film collide, is made possible by an exciting new collaboration between Ballet Northwest, Studio West Dance Academy, and the Olympia Film Society.
On Saturday, Whelan will teach master ballet classes at Johansen Olympia Dance Center, home of Ballet Northwest, followed by a screening and Q&A session of her film Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan hosted by Olympia Film Society (OFS). She will end her weekend teaching additional master ballet classes Sunday afternoon at Studio West Dance Academy.
Ballet Northwest (BNW), the oldest ballet company in Washington, has a long history of fostering a love of dance in this community. Beyond entertaining the public with high quality performances featuring local talent, the company strives to offer educational opportunities for performers and the community while promoting the art of dance in Southwest Washington. Bringing star dancers like Whelan to the area to teach and share challenges they have faced and overcome is just one way BNW is achieving this mission.
Ken and Josie Johnson, co-artistic directors of BNW, saw Whelan dance in New York and speak in Seattle while dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet. “We were impressed not only by her amazing talent, but also by her warm and accessible demeanor,” Ken explained. After the release of her film, Restless Creature, earlier this year, they knew dancers and dance enthusiasts in Olympia needed to meet Whelan.
Everyone has faced or will face a challenge in their lifetime; it is what we do in the face of such adversity that matters most. This couldn’t be truer of Whelan. Facing an undesired reality, assessing her own self-worth, and contending with change, are just a few of the trials Whelan was forced to grapple with after three decades as a professional NYCB dancer.
Whelan, now 50, had a complete hip replacement in 2015 after debilitating pain forced her retirement from NYCB. The film Restless Creature depicts Ms. Whelan’s difficult, but triumphant journey as a dancer approaching retirement from the only life she ever knew.
Without hesitation Audrey Henley, executive director of the Olympia Film Society, agreed to screen the film. When asked why, Henley explained, “Within the first few minutes of the film I was instantly drawn into Wendy’s story. Her life is compelling and Restless Creature sent me through a range of emotions learning about her successes and gut-wrenching challenges.”
Today, with an increased ability to move, Whelan is exercising a new found entrepreneurial spirit, dancing specially choreographed contemporary pieces which is allowing her to move in new ways and continue to express herself through dance. As a self-professed lifelong learner, she is enjoying life after ballet and the flexibility to travel and teach in places like Olympia as part of her self-imposed mission to explore what is possible.
Aspiring dancers understand ballet is a demanding sport, but learning about the physical and emotional demands from an accomplished celebrity and how she has reinvented herself is a rare and unique opportunity. The local collaboration between BNW, Studio West, and OFS has made this a reality. “Combining forces to bring a major dance star like Wendy Whelan to share her story and experiences with local audiences is a true gift to Olympia,” according to Ken Johnson.
Dancers from both studios are beyond excited for the opportunity to personally meet and work with Whelan. Stephanie Wood, co-director for Studio West Dance Academy, commented that “when I shared the news [of her visit] with our students, it was as if I had just told them Baryshnikov was coming to town. They screamed in delight and couldn’t believe it.”
You don’t want to miss the opportunity to meet and learn from this living legend of the ballet world. Pre-registration for intermediate and advanced master classes at either studio is required. To register for Johansen Olympia Dance Center classes on January 27 call 360-943-8011. To sign up for Studio West Dance Academy classes on January 28 call 360-956-9378. Tickets for Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan showing at the Capitol Theater at 6:30 p.m. January 27 can be pre-purchased online or at the box office during normal business hours.
Want a sneak peek? View the trailer for Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan here.
And for more dance fun made possible through collaboration, mark your calendar for the Olympia Dance Festival on March 3 at the Washington Center. Now in its ninth year, the Festival features over a dozen local dance groups in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip-hop, Irish, ballroom, Middle Eastern, and Chinese dance. Guest artist Melinda Sullivan, a tap dancer featured on “So You Think You Can Dance”, will round out the program. Find more information online at the Olympia Dance Festival page.