Wendy Whelan & Brian Brooks in ‘Some of a Thousand Words’ with LIVE Music by Brooklyn Rider 

Wendy Whelan, the former New York City Ballet principal, performed Restless Creature in San Diego in 2015, and audiences were thrilled by four duets with and by contemporary choreographers.

Her project included:  Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Alejandro Cerrudo, and Brian Brooks.  After nearly three decades as a ballerina, Ms. Whelan told the men she wanted honesty.

“I told them, ‘I want to go into your world. I want you to challenge me. Don’t cater to me. I want to learn and bite off more than I can chew. I want to find more of myself by doing that.  I want to swim in your ocean, because I think you are awesome, and I want to build a relationship with you.’ They really challenged me after that.”

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks performing “Some of a Thousand Words.” String quartet Brooklyn Rider plays live. Image: La Jolla Music Society

The most memorable duet was “First Fall” with Brooks, which has grown to a new suite, Some of a Thousand Words, with a lean Whelan and compact Brooks expanding their study of lifts and falls and exchanges of weight.

Members of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider perform with them onstage at 8 pm., Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Balboa Theatre downtown. The work’s five sections are set to music by Tyondai Braxton, John Luther Adams, Philip Glass, and Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen.

Brooklyn Rider has been hailed as “the future of chamber music.” Nicholas Cords, violist, is co-director of Silkroad, the collective founded with Yo-Yo Ma, in 2000. Cords is also credited with “recreating the 300-year-old form of the string quartet.”  He says Brooklyn Rider’s mission is to build musical bridges, and they do.

“We watch the dancers for cues,” said Cords, “and once we get going it’s a balance.  We have to perform with lots of concentration, but with sensors. We all sense Wendy and Brian on stage.  It’s an energy, and that’s why we like this project.”

They’re on Youtube and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

Listen to their new album “Spontaneous Symbols” on Spotify or Apple Music. Some pieces from that album are set to dance for this show. I gave the album a whirl with my morning coffee and sent my heart and mind racing.

Opening sections from the album are frenetic and urgent, visceral in the realm of “Rite of Spring.” After a few minutes, images of nature set in. There’s no better soundtrack for a wildlife film, with hummingbirds zooming, and larger beasts battling for territory.

Wild layers of strings become more sinister and finally lighten as if winds are blowing leaves. If you suffer from anxiety, the scrapes and tension will send you off a cliff. But wait for hints of the exotic, the fades, and curious gushes of air that sound like an old pump organ, as when a child presses down on too many keys.

The recording compels listeners to scribble serious zigzags and circles.

Take a breath and buckle your seat belts because it’s bound to be a wild ride with Whelan and Brooks chasing and falling as Brooklyn Rider plays live. I predict some viewers will levitate from their seats on Saturday.

“The dancers make it easy for us,” Cord said. “We watch for cues when we start, and then the hour-show goes fast. It’s packed and visceral, but Brian has designed the choreography so well, with tempo and pacing.  We do our best to find that place, where dance and music can make sense. I love that.

“Wendy has so much experience as a dancer, on stage, in New York, with live music.  She has a relationship with all of that, and together we can make sure our tradition doesn’t die.”

Some of a Thousand Words, with dancer-choreographers Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks, and Brooklyn Rider is presented by the La Jolla Music Society. http://ljms.org/

Did you know?  In conjunction with its presentation of  Wendy Whelan/Restless Creature in 2015, La Jolla Music Society also presented CHOREOLab2015 to give five San Diego choreographers the opportunity to present work to choreographers Kyle Abraham, Brian Brooks, Joshua Beamish, and Alejandro Cerrudo.






  1. Peter Kalivas on December 1, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Kris, Did You Know? “I created CHOREOLAB for The La Jolla Music Society in 2013 when I was that year’s Dance Scholar in Residence. It’s a great concept, in its original state.

Leave a Comment