Documentary about ballet dancer Wendy Whelan highlights her contributions to the art form

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“If I don’t dance, I’d rather die,” says Wendy Whelan, the resilient ballerina at the center of “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan,” the stirring documentary about Whelan’s long tenure with the New York City Ballet and her contributions to ballet as a whole.

Whelan spent 30 years with the New York City Ballet, dancing with the company until she was 47 and Father Time finally stepped in and asked for her curtain call. Filmmakers Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger direct this moving and intimate portrait of Whelan, who is described as a “national treasure” early on, a descriptor backed up by those who know her and surround her.

“Restless Creature” follows Whelan, who began dancing around age 4, under the knife as she undergoes hip surgery to extend her career a bit further. It’s clear at the time her days with the NYC Ballet are nearing their end, and the movie follows her through her final production with the company, an original piece titled “By 2 With & From.”

Seeing Whelan move with grace and elegance across the stage is as much storytelling as you need, but this all access documentary paints a full portrait and explains her importance in the field. During her final bows, she is showered with roses that won’t stop coming, a symbol of the mark she has left on her art form.

“Restless Creature” does not end with that final performance, however; Whelan continues to perform, although she has left the New York City Ballet behind. Like a featured player on “Saturday Night Live,” it was her time to leave and let the next generation shine. But her dancing days continue, and “Restless Creature” dances right along with her.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

‘Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature’

GRADE: B+

Not rated

Running time: 93 minutes

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