We'll Miss You, Wendy Whelan

October 15, 2014

The first time I ever went to Steps as a teenager, something amazing happened. Sure, the class (Willy Burmann’s) was great. But what I remember most is how one dancer graciously held the door open for my parents and me to file out of the building afterwards. I turned to my mom and whispered, “Oh my god, do you know who that is? Wendy Whelan just held the door and smiled directly at us!” Little did I know then that she was widely known among her colleagues as a consummate ballerina not only because of her mercurial artistry onstage, but for her generous spirit off of it.


When Whelan gives her epic retirement performance from New York City Ballet this Saturday night (unsurprisingly, tickets sold out within minutes; more unexpectedly, Wheeldon and Ratmansky collaborated on a premiere for the occasion), I can’t imagine there will be many dry eyes in the house. I’m having a bit of trouble with that just writing this. Not that she’s disappearing from the stage. She already has several projects in the works, including her Restless Creature tour and an upcoming duet with The Royal Ballet’s equally creature-like Edward Watson. But watching her perform Wheeldon’s After The Rain or Robbins’ The Cage or Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH is an experience that can feel haunting, and almost sacred—and something that, very selfishly, I’m desperately going to miss. There is no other dancer who moves quite like her in these ballets and so many others. She’s someone who can be lusciously tender yet unapologetically powerful all in the same moment. She’s someone who can find, as she wrote in our Why I Dance column, “the poetry in the unfolding of a step.” She’s someone who, in life and in dance, shares herself completely, embracing every aspect of who she is, and the total ownership of what some might deem awkward makes her all the more incandescently, beautifully human.


Truth be told, the simple fact is that we can’t get enough. (This is actually a conversation our editorial staff has had when planning stories: “Is this too much Wendy Whelan?” Usually, the answer is, “There’s no such thing.”) For me, NYCB won’t be the same without her. But I can’t wait to see what her next chapter will bring.