Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle in For 2 With & From. Photo: Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
Last night, as I was taking 6pm ballet class at Ballet Academy East, I saw a familiar figure pass by the observation window and did a double take—it was Wendy Whelan. Just three nights earlier I’d seen give her final performance at the New York City Ballet, but she was already back to work, hair tightly wound in her signature French twist, teaching for the school’s pre-professional division. It was a comforting reminder that even though the glittering, streamer-filled goodbye performance on Saturday was her last with NYCB, she’s not going anywhere soon. Her Restless Creature tour picks up again in January (click here for cities and dates), and she has another project in the works with The Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson.
In fact, Whelan seemed to exude a special kind of reassurance to both audience members and colleagues during her farewell performance. In Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, she looked thrilled dancing among her friends, her smile huge and beaming as she was tossed through the air in a huge double tour. At one point during Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, she and her partner, Tyler Angle, joined the ensemble to walk forward in a line, arms linked around waists in a shared moment of community. As they walked, Whelan looked at each of her cast mates with a reassuring smile as if to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.” And each embrace of longtime partner Craig Hall during Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain took on a special meaning—savored, entwined messages of goodbye, gratitude and comfort. I have always admired Whelan’s authenticity onstage—while wholly unique, and in some roles even creature-like, she exudes a very human warmth. It’s a rare and special quality for an artist, one that I will miss seeing in her signature NYCB roles.
For me, the evening’s most touching moments came towards the end of By 2 With & From, a world premiere co-choreographed by Wheeldon and Ratmansky. Hall and Angle, acting as her dual partners, disappeared into the wings, leaving Whelan alone and vulnerable on the darkened stage. It was a reflective moment that brought tears to my eyes, knowing how scary it is to move on from the career and friends you’ve loved so dearly. But her partners quickly reappeared, scooping her up and eventually lifting her into the night’s final image: Whelan reaching towards the sky, ready to take off. It was both a fitting ending and a new beginning.
Photo by Paul Kolnick, Courtesy NYCB