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Why I Dance: Wendy Whelan
With diamond-like clarity, Wendy Whelan dances a wide variety of starring roles with New York City Ballet. While growing up in Kentucky, she trained at Louisville Ballet Academy. At 13 she came to NYC to study at the School of American Ballet and joined NYCB five years later. Since 1991, when she was named a principal, she has brought her special brand of luster to Balanchine's Agon, Jewels, Mozartiana, Liebeslieder Walzer, Union Jack and many more. She has also made her mark in Robbins' The Cage, Peter Martins' Swan Lake, and Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH. But it is as Christopher Wheeldon's muse that she has proved an utterly beguiling ballerina, imbuing his oddly broken lines with a haunting depth. She created lead roles in his Polyphonia, Liturgy, After the Rain, and The Nightingale and the Rose. A 2007 Dance Magazine Award recipient, Whelan has also performed as a guest artist with The Royal Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company.
I have always needed to dance; my life has never been without it. I've been a practitioner of the art form since nearly the day I could walk. My mother thought a toddler ballet class would be a great outlet for my excessive energy. It proved to be the perfect creative release and, as she'd hoped, it buffered the rough play I exhibited toward my baby sister. How lucky for me to find, through these lessons, not only a heightened awareness of my body, but also a vocation.
I was about 7 when I saw a real ballet dancer up close. I was waiting to attend my first rehearsal as a mouse in the Louisville Ballet's Nutcracker. I stood in the doorway watching her take company class. Her name was Karen, and she stood out to me for her beautiful arching lines. We eventually became friends. I will never forget her or all the beauty swirling around in that room. The building was an old factory, the dancers were wearing layers of colorful warmers, and the sunlight that showered through the windows covered them in golden warmth. The smell of leather and sweat, the sound of rosin being crushed, the creative wit and humor of the dancers balancing out the quiet intensity of their work—I found it all intoxicating.
I saw then, as I do now, the world of dance as an intimate and sensual place where deep bonds are built through the collaborative effort of making the unnatural seem effortless. Dancers who work together day after day can't help but know each other's mannerisms and weaknesses, vulnerabilities and strengths. We are constantly revealing ourselves to each other through our movement; learning from and teaching each other without even trying. I am inspired by the deep connections I have cultivated with my colleagues through dance.
I have been fortunate to work with some great teachers and choreographers and have gained tremendous insight from them. They always spark my creativity. With them, I make daily discoveries by translating their ideas into my body. I rarely get there in one try, which requires me to look inside myself for answers. I think of this as my daily bread because without this kind of creative exercise I feel empty.
I love to perform, but the process of working toward each performance enriches me just as much. I have always loved class for the purpose of gaining control of my body. Class is the place where I awaken my thought process each day. I love to feed my body ideas, and I get a tremendous thrill when it responds positively to a good one. It's amazing to apply a correction and moments later gain an ability that had previously been challenging. I love rehearsals for the alchemy of a partnership, the unexpected surprises that occur, or the poetry in the unfolding of a step.
Dance has always been my silent partner. We communicate each day and, like every relationship, sometimes struggle to understand each other. Dancing has worked me to the extremes of exhaustion and exhilaration. It has given me anxiety and soothed me from it. It has nursed me through heartache. Dance has asked me to define my individuality and to redefine my notions of beauty. It has made me aware of my ego and the complexities of having one. Dance has shown me the beauty of humility and has helped me develop a capacity for awareness. As dancers we work within an art form that lives and dies in nearly the same instant and, in this sense, offers us powerful lessons in mortality.
Wendy Whelan and Nikolaj Hübbe in Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer. Photo by Erin Baiano/Paul Kolnik Studio, Courtesy NYCB, © Balanchine Trust.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.