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Wendy Whelan Just Keeps Dancing

Prima ballerina Wendy Whelan is with us. One of the country’s most famous ballerinas looks at dance as she approaches 50.

photo
Wendy Whalen, in a photographic portrait by Nisian Hughes. (Nisian Hughes)Wendy Whalen, in a photographic portrait by Nisian Hughes. (Nisian Hughes)Wendy Whalen, in a photographic portrait by Nisian Hughes. (Nisian Hughes)Wendy Whlen in a still from  Ego Et Tu choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, one of four duets from Restless Creature. (Christopher Duggan)Wendy Whlen in a still from  Ego Et Tu choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, one of four duets from Restless Creature. (Christopher Duggan)Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in a still from Ego Et Tu choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, one of four duets from Restless Creature.(Christopher Duggan)Brian Brooks and Wendy Whelan in a still from First Fall choreographed by Brian Brooks, one of four duets from Restless Creature. (Christopher Duggan)Brian Brooks and Wendy Whelan in a still from First Fall choreographed by Brian Brooks, one of four duets from Restless Creature. (Christopher Duggan)Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in a still from The Serpent and the Smoke choreographed by Kyle Abraham, one of four duets from Restless Creature. (Christopher Duggan)Kyle Abraham and  Wendy Whelan in a still from The Serpent and the Smoke choreographed by Kyle Abraham, one of four duets from Restless Creature(Christopher Duggan)Kyle Abraham and  Wendy Whelan in a still from The Serpent and the Smoke choreographed by Kyle Abraham, one of four duets from Restless Creature(Christopher Duggan)Wendy Whelan in a performace still from The Serpent and the Smoke choreographed by Kyle Abraham, one of four duets from Restless Creature.

Wendy Whelen came up out of Louisville, Kentucky to become one of the most famous dancers in America.  Ballet dancer.  She was, and is, longer than most.  More angular.  Like calligraphy, critics said.  And that’s just the start.  They go crazy for her work ethic.  Her astounding strength.  Her rapturous, incandescent spirituality.  So have choreographers.  She has been muse to the greats.  She dances, they create.  They create together.  Last fall, at 47, Whelan left the New York City Ballet.  But she’s still dancing.  This hour On Point:  we’re looking at the heart of a ballet superstar, with Wendy Whelen.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Wendy Whelan, ballerina and dancer. Former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet.

Gia Kourlas, dance editor for Time Out New York. Regular contributor to the New York Times. (@giakourlas)

From Tom’s Reading List

New Yorker: Nothing To Hide: Wendy Whelan Retires — “A ballet dancer’s life is made up of infinite minute adjustments, mostly intended to improve the way things look: Is the line of the leg beautiful in this position? Should my left shoulder tilt more toward or away from the audience? Is this transition clear enough? But, at this stage, such considerations are almost irrelevant to Whelan.”

New York Times: Muse Steps Away — “Ms. Whelan is among that rare breed of artists who have touched the public in a way that transcends the fashions that can make ballerinas (or artists or actors) sensations for a season. Her sinewy physicality, with its tensile, thoroughbred articulation of muscle and tendon, her kinetic clarity and her dramatic, otherworldly intensity have created a quite distinct and unusual identity. She is not made in the ballerina mold of the past, all delicate curves and hyper-feminine prettiness. She is a far more unusual creature: a modern ballerina and a determined player in a world still dominated by male creators and directors.”

Los Angeles Times: Dancer Wendy Whelan leaves ballet, becomes a freelance modernist — “Late in her NYCB career she found herself no longer cast in coveted Balanchine roles and needing a hip reconstruction. Both these setbacks deeply troubled her, she says, but helped persuade her that she had reached a crossroads and should move on. Whelan admits that she once scorned modern dance (‘I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand it’). But now, she finds herself more than ever committed to new movement experiences.”

Watch Wendy Whelan In “Moving Forward”

Playlist

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