Photo by Nisian Hughes

Photo by Nisian Hughes


Wendy Whelan, widely considered one of the world’s leading dancers, began dance lessons at the age of three with Virginia Wooton in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. At the age of eight, she performed as a mouse in the Louisville Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. From that first performance, she was smitten. “Once I got to perform — to see the dancers and to have an orchestra playing right there in the pit, and see stage makeup, see the costume designs up close — once I knew ballet was a collaborative effort for all of these incredible artists, that’s when I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.”

Wendy began intense professional training at the Louisville Ballet Academy. In 1981, her teachers, Cecile Gibson and Robert Dicello, encouraged Wendy to audition for Suzanne Farrell, who was scouting students for the School of American Ballet, the training ground for New York City Ballet and top ballet companies around the world, co-founded in 1933 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Wendy was accepted to the summer program at age 14; a year later, after her second summer program, she moved to New York to continue her studies as a full-time student. In 1984, she was named an apprentice with New York City Ballet and joined the corps de ballet a year later.

Wendy went on to spend 30 years at New York City Ballet, dancing virtually all the major Balanchine roles, and working closely with Jerome Robbins on many of his ballets and originating roles in ballets by such notable choreographers as William Forsythe, Twyla Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Jorma Elo, Shen Wei, and Wayne MacGregor. She was promoted to soloist in 1989 and to principal dancer in 1991. In 2011, she received both The Jerome Robbins Award and a Bessie Award for her Sustained Achievement in Performance.

In 2012, as her career at New York City Ballet began to wind down, Wendy began to develop new collaborative projects. Her inaugural project, Restless Creature, premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2013. “I needed some new inspirations and some new challenges in my life,” she says. “Being a ballet dancer I was feeling the end of something, and I needed the beginning of something else. Restless Creature is an exploration for me. I chose four young male choreographers from the contemporary world to make works for me to dance with them.” The works created by these four dancer/choreographers — Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Bryan Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo — were presented together on one program and premiered in August 2013 at The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. In summer 2014, Restless Creature will travel to London and Vail, and will start a U.S. tour in January 2015.

Last updated: March 19, 2015


Blake Zidell