No dancer lingers in memory after the curtain comes down like New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan. Indelible and singular, her passion for ballet gives real meaning to the word “artist.” Whelan has been the lynchpin of much of the recent work that the company has commissioned from choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. It’s no surprise that they turn to her. She brings care, discipline and humor to every aspect of her work. “I don’t know if there’s a person to look up to more,” says fellow NYCB principal Robert Fairchild. Pointe followed Whelan through a typical day of dance at the start of New York City Ballet’s 2010 spring season.
It began as usual at Willy Burmann’s class at Steps on Broadway. “She’s not just warming up or doing the steps,” he says. “She brings a total commitment every time. If people would watch her a bit more, we’d be better off in ballet.” It continued with a pas de deux rehearsal at NYCB’s studios with Fairchild for Ratmansky’s new piece, Namouna, A Grand Divertissement. Then came another rehearsal, this one with Albert Evans for Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Made on Whelan, the piece has become a signature, but she had never danced it before with Evans. “With each person I dance it,” says Whelan, “it’s a different kind of happiness.”