Netflix Review: "Restless Creature. Wendy Whelan." Learning about Loss.

Girls gymnastics is bad.

But Ballet is the worst.

Wendy Whelan was a dancer

At NYC Ballet for thirty years.

In the Chorus, Soloist and Principal.

The works.

I wouldn’t wish that career path on anyone’s daughter.

I lived in the South End of Boston

Where everyone (almost)

was gay

Or a Ballet dancer (or both).

You couldn’t help but date a ballet dancer in Boston.

I asked one girl

how she got to Boston Ballet

And she said

she was known for great balance

And I thought that was the coolest.

(It’s like speed. You can’t teach it.)

This was the mid 90’s

when Wendy Whelan’s

Long Figure was already a decade

on the New York Stage.

This girl was a long one too.

Here’s why Ballet is the worst:

Because you take this group of girls when they are 3

And by the time they are 5

It’s clear who’s the best.

This one is different.

So she practices and competes

for 15 years or so.

And she has roughly always

been the best

In any given group.

She’s trained everyday. Really.

Everyday for 15 years.

And there are 30 of these girls for a call.

At Boston Ballet.

Invite only.

And they line up.

And the director walks down the line.


Saying “Yes,” to a dozen girls.

And the rest go home.

Before they even dance a step.

Wrong body type.

Might just be a hair off.

But you don’t even get to dance.

And that was your shot.

Ballet is the worst

(may as well be a model...

seems like more of a fair shake).


You could pick a ballet dancer out

From across the Boston Commons

Or in a crowd.

I don’t know if it’s still the case,

But at the time

Girls walked as close to first position

as they could.

Very much duck-like.

Exaggerated duck-like.

First Position.

First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Positions.

And what happens over time

(my friend explained to me)

Was that the muscles develop

in this sideways to the hip position.

First position.

She was small. Just muscle.

She was the first woman

I ever knew who you could pick up

By her buttocks.

The girls reminded me

of Chinese women

Who bound feet.

Some of the girls had athletic feet.

Banged up and muscular.

The hairline was an issue too.

The girls pull their hair back

So tightly

For so many years.

It breaks and thins at the hairline.

Such as it is.

I sat at a party with a soloist.

She was the first person I met

Who couldn’t tell anyone her last name

Because her father

had too much money.

Because where she came from

in Latin America

She’d get kidnapped.

She wasn’t bragging.

It was how she lived.

She wore the smallest bikini

I’d ever seen.

Probably to date,

the smallest bikini ever worn

On a stony New Hampshire beach

(and she’d borrowed it from her mother).

Everyone in the company

roughly hated her.

She smoked what she wanted

(they all smoked).

Ate what she wanted

Did what she wanted.

She was European in her manner.

Confident. Given over.

And always in tune.


She liked the sound of Formula One

on Sundays

and never even thought

of starving herself.

It seemed like she was handed Everything?

She had a black sports car

Out front of her apartment

With a zillion orange tickets on it

from an old boyfriend.

We cut cocaine with his credit card.

Ballet is tough.

The managing an eating disorder

part of it.

That takes a toll.

The film didn’t touch on that

Except for one little scene

towards the end.

The movie also avoided the obvious

Exchange for greatness in Ballet.

The only remedy for which is adoption.

The movie was lovely.

And captured the Humanity.

I’d recommend it.

I wish Wendy Whelan the best.

The glory you achieve

Is equal to the risks you’ve taken

And the agony you’ve suffered.

And that which you have,

Is relative to that which you don’t.

And we all “gonna learn about loss.”

(Cape Fear, 1991.)

Restless Creature: Now Available on Netflix.

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