The Wendy Whelan You Probably Don't Know
Wendy Whelan can surprise you. For someone so highly-revered as a dance icon, her incredible down-to-earth candor can take you aback the first time you meet her. While reporting our May cover story, I uncovered a few fun facts I had to share.
- Her mom initially put her in ballet class at age 3 so she'd stop jumping on her baby sister.
Little Wendy practicing her tendu
- She's a regular at Zvi Gotheiner's class at New York City Center, which is mostly attended by modern dancers. "She's so revered, she could relax now," says Gotheiner. "But she's dead-serious in class, always practicing on the side."
- She comes from a family of smart, strong women: Her sister is a homicide detective and her mother was a legendary college basketball coach in Louisville, Kentucky.
- She's a die-hard cat person: Her ringtone is the sound of purring, and she and her husband own two former strays, Charleyrose and Seamus.
Making Charleyrose "dance." Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.
- She has no problem casually dropping an f-bomb, or a very dirty joke. "She can make a brother blush!" exclaims Kyle Abraham, who choreographed on her for Restless Creature, during her last year at NYCB. "It's like, 'Oh, you really are so real.' "
- She recently taught a choreography course at Barnard College (where she is the first-ever Orzeck artist-in-residence). "I was pretty good at teaching choreography for not being a choreographer," she says with a laugh. She tried her first stabs at composition along with her students, but has no desire to choreograph herself: "I like to be the brush. I don't want to be the one that puts it on the canvas."
With choreographer Alexei Ratmansky
- She goes gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian as often as possible. "But I'm not hard-core strict about anything in my diet."
- She loves searching YouTube for comedy videos. Favorites: Kristen Wiig, Samantha Bee and Amy Schumer, "because she's dirty and naughty and bad."
- She's great at parties. "She's hysterical—and a great dancer at parties," says New York City Ballet principal Rebecca Krohn, who considers Whelan a mentor. "She has so much joy, and loves having fun."
"Decompressing" with Fang-Yi Sheu
Want more Wendy? For an intimate look at Whelan's last year with NYCB, be sure to check out the new documentary Restless Creature, which opens May 24 in New York, and will be released in theaters nationwide this summer.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.