High Altitude Society column: In praise of Wendy Whelan

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks perform "First Fall," part of Whelan's project "Restless Creature," during the Vail International Dance Festival at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.
Anthony Thornton | |

BEAVER CREEK — There was a sold-out house at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Wednesday for “Restless Creature,” the inaugural work of Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative. Whelan has long been a Vail International Dance Festival favorite and this year is no exception. She and the four choreographers that she collaborated with, Alejandro Cerrudo, Joshua Beamish, Kyle Abraham and Brian Brooks, received a lengthy standing ovation full of admiration and praise.

Stephanie Wolf traveled from Denver to see Whelan’s performance and was thrilled to see her again.

“Growing up as a dancer I idolized Wendy Whelan, and then when I became a professional dancer myself, I appreciated how articulate she was and how she always stayed humble, even though she was growing more and more as a star in the ballet world. To me, she is the ultimate American ballerina,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s cohort Ellen Jensby had similar feelings and a great story about Whelan. “Wendy was the first professional ballerina that I had ever seen in person. It was in Wichita, Kansas, and she was a guest performer in ‘The Nutcracker.’ I was in the performance and remember watching her from back stage and I was in complete awe of her. I am really excited to see her performance tonight,” Jensby said before the show.

Francesca Forcella, who dances with BalletX and has performed this week with the Vail International Dance Festival, had this to say, “Wendy is beautiful. Her lines are exquisite. She is long, very long.”

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Caroline Cappelletti, a young dancer with the Colorado Conservatory of Ballet, made the trip from Denver with her mother, Janeen, and was also impressed.

“I think her performance tonight was really pretty and inspirational. She looked elegant,” Cappelletti said. Cappelletti took a master class with professional dancers during the day through the Vail International Dance Festival.

Her mother was pleased. “Pretty good stuff for a 12 year old. They even performed a spontaneous dance in Vail Village,” Janeen said.

Vail International Dance Festival Director Damian Woetzel introduced Whelan and recounted stories of earlier days.

“We progressed through our careers in the New York City Ballet very much in parallel, dancing together frequently … growing up together, essentially. We also danced together … elsewhere around the world — Russia, Buenos Aires, Vail. When I became director (of Vail International Dance Festival) in 2007, one of the first calls was to Wendy saying, ‘Please, you have to come dance … and will you please dance with me?’” Woetzel said.

In 2009, Vail International Dance Festival featured Whelan in an UpClose program as dancer and muse.

“She has blossomed into what you will see tonight … you can see a great ballerina who has applied herself to being part of the now of her time, with all of these choreographers,” Woetzel said.

For more information on the festival, visit or

Betty Ann Woodland is a longtime local who covers social events including fundraisers for nonprofits, galas and soirees of all kinds. She can be reached at highaltitudesociety@vail

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