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Monday November 29th

"Art Above Everything": A discussion with world-renowned ballerina Wendy Whelan

<p>Stephanie Elizondo Griest, UNC associate professor of creative nonfiction and author. Photo courtesy of Christina Rodriguez.</p>
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Stephanie Elizondo Griest, UNC associate professor of creative nonfiction and author. Photo courtesy of Christina Rodriguez.

Carolina Performing Arts will be hosting Wendy Whelan, former principal dancer and current associate artistic director of New York City Ballet, at Memorial Hall on Oct. 15 to perform “The Day,” a new work by Whelan, Maya Beiser, David Lang and Lucinda Childs.

On Oct. 14, UNC professor and author Stephanie Elizondo Griest will engage Whelan in a conversation about her artistic devotion at the Current ArtSpace + Studio on Franklin Street in the “Art Above Everything” event.

Arts & Culture staff writer Alicia Robbins spoke with Amanda Graham, Carolina Performing Arts associate director of engagement, about Whelan and Griest’s upcoming discussion and how it will give attendees a new perspective on Whelan and the ballet world.

The Daily Tar Heel: Why did Carolina Performing Arts decide to connect Stephanie Griest and Wendy Whelan in the Art Above Everything event?

Amanda Graham: We decided to connect them because they were already connected. They knew one another well because Stephanie is currently writing a book titled "Art Above Everything," which is about women in the arts, and Wendy is one of those women. 

So, Stephanie has spent time with Wendy in her studio and has watched her dance, has interviewed her and many of her colleagues and family members. Stephanie actually just finished a chapter on Wendy Whelan and her life and her work, and so we thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to bring them together to both celebrate Wendy being at CPA to perform in “The Day," but then also to acknowledge Stephanie's forthcoming book, and in particular, this chapter. 

DTH: How will the discussion relate to the topics in the book?

AG: From what I understand, having seen a draft of Stephanie's chapter, Stephanie is interested in learning about how Wendy persevered through a lot of challenging situations, including injury and eating disorders. Also, they spoke at length about the #MeToo movement, in particular as it relates to the ballet world, and Wendy's changing roles going from a dancer to becoming an administrator in the arts at the NYC ballet. 

DTH: How does Whelan's experience relate to Greist's discussion of an artist's sacrifice for her craft?

AG: You might have seen the documentary film that is about Wendy Whelan, "Restless Creature," which is available on Netflix. That film traces Whelan going back into dance after serious injury and really exposes just how painful it was for her to dance in many moments and continues to be. 

There's a lot of information about Wendy in popular culture, especially through this film. However, I don't think that there have been too many exposés or articles about kind of connecting Wendy's childhood, her adolescence, her adult life, the different phases of her ballet career, her aspirations throughout, to all of these challenges in her life. Stephanie does a really good job doing that. 

DTH: What can attendees gain from this event and what does Carolina Performing Arts hope attendees will learn?

AG: Fans of Wendy and of ballet will get to see a different side of Wendy then they would if they were going to see her perform a dance performance, which of course she doesn't get into the personal. However, whenever, you're performing, you're always performing the personal, because you're performing with your body. They will get a sense of how interdisciplinary can lend itself to revealing something more about both disciplines. So, in this case, the process and act and craft of writing and the process and act and craft of dance.

DTH: How does this talk fit in with Carolina Performing Arts' greater theme and message this season?

AG: This year, Carolina Performing Arts is celebrating the creative leadership of women, in part due to recognizing the anniversary of the 19th amendment, all of the complications that come along with that. We're interested in interrogating what it means to celebrate women, specifically women in the arts, so this is one in a series of engagement events that will focus on women's labor, in particular women's invisible labor.

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