On Friday night, Festival Napa Valley features the world-class San Francisco Ballet on stage at Lincoln Theater. It’s a rare treat for aficionados of professional dance -- an art form sorely missing from the valley’s cultural calendar.
Whether or not you are a fan of classical or contemporary ballet, it’s impossible not to appreciate the enchanting beauty, stunning grace and dazzling athleticism required to achieve star status in this competitive profession.
Wendy Whelan, one of America’s greatest contemporary ballerinas, did just that, over her remarkable career 30-year with the New York City Ballet until an injury forced retirement and reinvention at age 47.
A new documentary, “Restless Creature,” recently screened at Jarvis Conservatory, powerfully captures Whelan’s struggles as she courageously comes to terms with an aging body and a life without ballet. (There is a happy ending, but I’m not giving it away!)
After seeing the film, I found it timely and apropos to credit two local treasures that deserve “bravos” from our community: Napa Regional Dance Company (NRDC) and Jarvis Conservatory.
Who knows how many future Whelans and Baryshnikovs are preparing to soar among the scores of students now taking classes at NRDC? Whelan began her dance training at age 3, and despite a diagnosis and subsequent treatment of scoliosis at age 12, entered the prestigious New York City Ballet School at age 15. Her first on-stage role was in “The Nutcracker.”
NRDC’s annual presentation of this holiday classic at Lincoln Theater is big, bold, collaborative and always upping the ante, especially now with the addition of live music. At the helm is the indefatigable co-founder and director Wanda Martin-McGill who consistently brings top-notch teachers to her Napa studio, enabling students to have the experience of and interaction with professional working artists. And, she’s forever seeking new opportunities to showcase her talented young dancers to broader audiences.
Case in point, NRDC will be featured as part of Festival Napa Valley in a community performance on Saturday, July 22 at 1 p.m. at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. Admission is free, but reservations are required. (For information, contact NRDC at 707-252-4615 as this one-time only performance may be sold out.)
Jarvis Conservatory, on the other hand, tends to keep a lower profile. You won’t hear them shouting from rooftops nor read ads in local publications flaunting their eclectic programs. In fact, even their website (www.jarvisconservatory.com) reads: “Napa Valley’s Best Kept Secret for Concerts and Art Films.” Don’t let that stop you from signing up to receive their schedules via email.
Artistic Director Leticia Jarvis has a keen eye and warm heart for choosing independent art films such as “Restless Creature,” and foreign films that often become Oscar contenders, such as Sweden’s “A Man Called Ove” from 2016. The jewel box venue is always pristine, plus the large screen and state-of-the-art sound system make movie-going a simple pleasure, especially when you are privy to experiencing a film well in advance of wider distribution.
I was inspired by the incredible achievements of and unrelenting tenacity that Wendy Whelan shared with the camera, and us, in “Restless Creature.” I’m also in awe of Napa Regional Dance Company and Jarvis Conservatory, who, as a result of viewing the film, inspired my appreciation for what they give back to our local arts community. Check them out.