Tomorrow night, Wendy Whelan will make her debut as a guest artist with the Stephen Petronio Company at New York’s Joyce Theater, dancing the choreographer’s Ethersketch 1. Pointe talked to Petronio about working with the celebrated New York City Ballet principal on the solo.
How did the collaboration with Wendy Whelan come about? I’ve known Wendy casually for years and have always been mad about her artistry. When our schedules allowed and I knew she was open to new experiences, I jumped.
What do you like about working with ballet dancers, and what are the frustrations? I love the clarity of line and speed of the feet of ballet dancers, along with their developed sense of functional physics. Conversely I enjoy taking the notion of what is correct for a ballet dancer and unhinging that paradigm. I hate mannered or fancy fingers and hands that have no function.
What about working with Wendy Whelan appealed to you particularly? Wendy stands alone as a unique gem of an artist. I have watched her over a long, illustrious career and she has broken the mold of what a ballerina can be. She has forged a singular path for herself.
Did you reshape the solo at all for her talents? I made some minor adjustments and added accents to underline her particular uniqueness. And we built a slightly new end to make it hers.
What aspects of the choreography have been a challenge for her? The speed and rapid coordination changes that build into sequences were quite new for her, like any new language. Physical tongue twisters!
What new qualities does she bring to the work? A razor sharp angularity unlike anyone’s I’ve seen!
Was it at all intimidating to work with an NYCB ballerina? Not at all. She is humble, open and unassuming. We had fun! She is an obsessively hard and determined worker who throws herself into rehearsal fully. It’s amazing to watch her confront something totally new and chip away at it till it's hers.
What part was most fun? Watching one of the biggest talents I know tackle my movement!