Review: Doc ‘Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan’ gracefully captures dancer’s denouement

Wendy Whelan performs "Agon" with New York City Ballet in 2013 in the documentary "Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan."
(Paul Kolnik / The George Balanchine Trust)

Sixty may be the new 40, but for ballet dancers, like all athletes, physical realities limit their time in the spotlight. At the ripe old age of 46, the ballerina Wendy Whelan, widely considered one of the best of her generation, faces those limitations with humor, grace, bafflement and remarkable openness in “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan,” an intimate and engaging chronicle of her final months with the New York City Ballet.

Directors Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger weren’t friends of Whelan’s before they began filming her, but the level of trust that developed is powerfully evident in the access Whelan granted them. They’re flies on the wall for her soul-searching conversations with journalists, friends, colleagues and family. They shadow her not just in rehearsal spaces, backstage and at home, but in the operating room for the arthroscopic hip-reconstruction surgery that she hopes will give her one more season with NYCB.

A dazzling talent with thoroughly un-diva-like deportment, Whelan may at times seem to be repeating herself. But it gradually becomes clear that she’s working through her shock over fading youth and strength, and grappling with nothing less than her identity.

The film captures the intense emotion of the October 2014 performance that capped Whelan’s 30-year career. But more crucial is the way it shows her creating new challenges for herself, turning the terrifying prospect of irrelevance into a shot at reinvention.



‘Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles

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