All us normal humans are currently struggling through the tricky what-should-I-get-my-studio-friends-for-the-holidays tap dance.* But we can give up right now, because former New York City Ballet prima/perpetually extraordinary person Wendy Whelan just won the present game forever: She gifted her advanced Ballet Academy East students her own leotards.
Picture that for a second: Wendy Whelan, a dance goddess, a living legend, just handed you a lovely leo that has been on her own superhuman body. And now you—you!—can benefit from all its amazing juju. It's like getting to wear a tutu that the dancer you idolize once donned, except in this case you can take the thing home and maybe (we won't judge!) sleep with it under your pillow.
We have to give snaps to the BAE ladies for maintaining an extremely chill façade in the face of all this, because we have a feeling they're squee-ing like crazy inside:
A photo posted by Wendy Whelan (@wendyw) on
Wendy Whelan is, was and forever will be #allthegoals.
*Psst: Our Gift Guide might help!
The annual Fire Island Dance Festival took place in New York last week and raised a record-breaking amount for its worthy cause: Dancers Responding to AIDS. This year also featured five new world-premiere works and more than 30 professional dancers.
Highlights included ballerina Wendy Whelan in choreographer Brian Brooks' piece First Fall, a MADBOOTS Dance piece in response to the Orlando tragedy titled For Us and the first U.S. performance of Cuba's Ballet Contemporáneo de Camagüey. Dance Theatre of Harlem also debuted Equilibrium (BROTHERHOOD) by Darrell Grand Moultrie and Dorrance Dance performed a jaw-dropping tap piece.
Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks perform First Fall. (Photo by Daniel Roberts via Facebook, Dancers Responding to AIDS)
The fest's iconic stage, overlooking the water, makes for a pretty stunning venue. And thankfully, for those that missed out, some of the dances have made their way to YouTube. Check out the highlights video first, then scroll down for a full-length performance of Al Blackstone's upbeat "Gay Paree" (a re-imagined piece from his recent hit Freddie Falls in Love) and appearances by Dance Theatre of Harlem, MADBOOTS Dance and Gallim Dance.
The ballet world is ruled by the young. Young bodies are just better suited to its crazy demands, which means that it's not uncommon for a dancer to join a company at 16 and retire at 30. But ballet's veterans—those who've been around for 10, 15, 20 years—bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to their performances. The eleventh episode of "city.ballet." looks at some of New York City Ballet's seasoned stars. Here are five things we learned from the ep.
Veteran/goddess Wendy Whelan rehearsing with Tyler Angle in a still from "city.ballet."
1. In the ballet world, you feel ancient when the rest of the world still thinks of you as young. Principal Andrew Veyette, who's in his early 30s, had an epiphany about age while watching a basketball game. "I remember turning to my wife [that'd be fantastic fellow principal Megan Fairchild] and saying, 'You realize most of these guys are younger than us.' All of a sudden, you're 15 years in and 10 years older than you think you are."
2. Veteran dancers learn to look at ballet differently. "As you get older, you get smarter," soloist Craig Hall says. "You have to be more efficient, because you can't just do it day-in and day-out without feeling something. You have to find tricks that allow you to do less physically and more mentally."
3. But the best dancers age like fine wine. Wendy Whelan, who until she retired in October was the company's senior ballerina, is a goddess. Not that we learned that from this video—we've known it for years, along with the rest of the ballet world! But the footage of her rehearsing and performing Alexei Ratmansky's Pictures at an Exhibition (at 3:06 and 5:19) is sublime. She's 47 going on ageless.
4. OMG, these dancers have gorgeous families. We get to meet the husbands of both Hall and principal Maria Kowroski, and—surprise, surprise!—these two extraordinarily beautiful people are married to two other extraordinarily beautiful people.
5. With age comes new challenges, yes—but also new opportunities. "What's interesting is that now, at this late time in my career, I'm getting to do all these ballets I've always wanted to do," Kowroski says. "I feel like there's a maturity I can bring to these roles now. Having more life experience brings a different kind of a depth to them."
Click the image below to watch the full episode!
I'm also thankful for dancing turkeys. Thank you, dancing turkeys, for dancing. And being turkeys.
What are you thankful for this year? Finally hitting that 6 o'clock penchée? Being cast in your dream Nutcracker role? Getting your first pair of pointe shoes?
Here at Dance Spirit, we have a Thanksgiving tradition: Each year, everyone on staff expresses appreciation for the dance-y things that make our world a little brighter. And since being a member of the DS team comes with pretty amazing dance-related perks, we always have a lot to be thankful for. Here's what everyone had to say this time around.
"I'm thankful for the many web series about dance, like AOL On's 'city.ballet.,' Teen Vogue's 'Strictly Ballet' and Dance Spirit's own 'Road to Nationals.' Whenever I need a break at the office, I can grab my headphones, sit back and watch an inspiring episode—and it still looks like I'm doing work!" —Jenny Dalzell, managing editor
"I'm thankful to get to interview some of the youngest dancers featured in DS for our 'You Should Know' column. I'm constantly inspired by their passion, optimism, humility and gratitude—not to mention their insane talent!" —Maggie McNamara, assistant editor
"I'm thankful to be surrounded by amazingly gifted dancers. I always have inspiration to work harder." —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone, assistant editor
"I'm thankful for artists like Misty Copeland, Tiler Peck and Wendy Whelan, who show dancers everywhere that there are so many options beyond a traditional stage performance career." —Meggie Hermanson, fashion editor
As for me? I'm thankful to be living in NYC, a city with more dancers per square foot than anywhere else in the universe. Every single day, I have opportunities to experience these artists' energy and passion—onstage, in the studio, at DS photo shoots, on the subway (it happens!). I love you, NYC—almost enough to make me forget how much rent I'm paying.
Happy Turkey Day!
Few art forms are as obsessed with lineage as ballet. Want to learn the classic Russian repertoire? Train with one of the last generation's greatest Russian dancers—because she was in turn coached by the previous generation's star, who was trained by a ballerina of a yet earlier generation, in a chain going all the way back to Petipa. Being able to trace your connection to the legends of the past is a way of establishing your credibility. And I love that! It's kind of wonderful that the transmission of ballet technique and style is such an intimate, person-to-person thing.
So I was totally charmed by a story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about "the Balanchine plant." Apparently, the great choreographer George Balanchine owned a rubber plant, and in the late '70s, he gave one of his dancers, Karin von Aroldingen, a cutting from the plant as a gift.
Von Aroldingen was a gorgeous dancer, btw. Here she is as the Siren in Balanchine's Prodigal Son.
After Balanchine died in 1983, that plant was especially precious to von Aroldingen. She began passing cuttings from it along to other important Balanchine dancers. Owning one of them gave you a special kind of connection to Mr. B—you were nurturing his legacy, as symbolized by this living thing.
Lovely, right? It's the whole ballet teaching philosophy, embodied in a plant.
Von Aroldingen amid her collection of "Balanchine plant" descendants today (photo by Gaia Squarci for the WSJ)
Why are we talking about this now? Well, apparently the latest dancer to receive a cutting is Wendy Whelan—von Aroldingen gave it to her after her final performance with New York City Ballet last month. Whelan was honored, but also a little anxious about plant care. Because, eek, what does it mean if you let your Balanchine plant die? Do you earn the eternal wrath of the ballet gods? (Fear not, Wendy: According to the story, former NYCB principal Kay Mazzo couldn't keep her cutting alive, and she's now co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, so...)
The WSJ also put together a video about "the Balanchine plant" to accompany the story—starring von Aroldingen, who is delightful. Take a look!
...New York Magazine had to go and re-open that big bag of feels.
This week's issue of NYMag includes a gorgeous group of behind-the-scenes photos from Wendy Whelan's final performance with New York City Ballet. We see a little of everything: the three pairs of pointe shoes she wore during the show, her last bow, an emotional hug with her mom in her dressing room, an adorable moment from the speech her husband gave at the after-party. And each photo is accompanied by a lovely quote from Whelan.
Are you hunting for a box of tissues? Don't—because Whelan is so funny, and makes it so clear that these were all happy moments, that you'll end up grinning rather than crying. (On her husband's speech, for example: "[He] was talking about when we first hooked up and how I chose class over spending the morning with him having coffee. Argggh—too much information!")
Here are a few of our favorite images from the story. Click here to see the whole thing.
(All photos by Henry Leutwyler for New York Magazine)
One of Whelan's final bows
Pointe shoes from her last NYCB performance
A great big hug from her mom
Husband David Michalek talking early hook-ups at the after party
Ballerina retirements are always hard. There's a unique feeling of loss that comes with the knowledge that you'll never see a particular dancer onstage again—that that part of her life, and yours, is over.
But somehow, the luminous Wendy Whelan was able to make her final show with New York City Ballet a joyful event. Granted, there were still plenty of tears as she took her last bows on Saturday night. But while she's leaving NYCB, she's not leaving the stage. During this next year alone, she'll be touring her own repertory program, Restless Creature, and debuting a brand-new program in London. Wendy's* still got a lot of wonderful dancing left in her—which meant Saturday night's celebration marked a beginning as well as an ending.
And in that spirit, she chose to say goodbye to NYCB with a world premiere. Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky—choreographers who've molded some of their most memorable ballets on Wendy—teamed up to create By 2 With & From, a sweet tribute to their longtime muse. I especially loved Ratmansky's section, which was equal parts playful (Wendy, giggling, as frequent partners Tyler Angle and Craig Hall did little hip-bumps with her) and reverent (the final image of Wendy stretching toward the sky, like the Statue of Liberty). You can watch its perfect ending here.
(From left) Tyler Angle, Craig Hall and Wendy in By 2 With & From (photo Andrea Mohin/New York Times)
We saw Wendy dance some of her signature roles, too—parts she's stamped so indelibly that it's difficult to imagine others in them. She was whispery and ghost-like in George Balanchine's La Sonnambula, impish and exuberant in an excerpt from Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. The audience sobbed collectively as she floated through the now-iconic duet from Wheeldon's After the Rain. But my personal favorite was the pas de deux from Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH—a thoughtful, meditative piece, tinged with melancholy. I love that Ratmansky can make Wendy both a distinct individual and a kind of universal symbol, and her cool, serene presence elevates his choreography to a different plane.
At the end, there were flowers and confetti and a never-ending string of curtain calls. All kinds of ballet luminaries—from Jacques d'Amboise to Julie Kent to Jock Soto—came out to honor Wendy. This is a dancer who's as well-loved offstage as she is onstage, admired for her humility and generosity and kindness as much as her singular artistry. Wendy couldn't stop smiling. Neither, through my tears, could I.
(Photo Andrea Mohin/New York Times)
*The Dance Spirit style guide tells us to refer to respected professionals by their last names. But I'm going to break that rule this time around—because Wendy is the kind of dancer everyone feels like they're on a first-name basis with. She makes it personal. That's part of her greatness.
Whelan in Mozartiana (photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)
The New York City Ballet principal gives her final performance with the company this month, but her career is far from over! Next year, she’ll be touring her contemporary production, Restless Creature, and premiering an all-new program in London. Here’s why Wendy Whelan will never give up dance—and you shouldn’t, either.
10. Dancing keeps you flexible and agile. “Move it or lose it!” Yes, there are some days when you’re hurting and you don’t want to dance—but it’s when you stop dancing that the pain really starts.
9. A moving body is a healthy body. Exercise generally, and dance especially, is good for you. Understanding your physicality will help you become a stronger adult.
8. Dance friendships are special. You build a unique bond with the people you dance with—a deeper, different kind of closeness. I value those people in my life, and I don’t know how I’d ever live without them.
7. Dancing keeps you challenged. Working through combinations, learning choreography, hearing new music—mastering those types of challenges will make you a better problem-solver in other areas of your life, too.
6. You should always be trying new moves. Dance pushes you. It forces you to keep testing yourself, to keep working on your weaknesses and to keep thinking about the next step. Dancers can’t just do what they’re good at all the time.
5. Dancing keeps your imagination going. It’s creative work, and it spurs creativity.
4. Dancing energizes you. One of my favorite quotes is, “Energy produces energy.” I’m always more energized after a performance!
3. There’s a way to dance at every age. Some people might say, “Oh, I’m too old for that,” or, “Oh, I’m not old enough for that.” But if you’re inventive, there are always opportunities to dance.
2. It feels good. When you first begin dancing, it might be painful. But once you start working at it regularly, it opens up your body, and you feel wonderful. Nothing compares to that feeling.
1. It’s fun! The energy, the social aspect, the challenges—they create a kind of enjoyment you can only get from dance, because dance is the only thing that mixes all of those elements. Dance charges your spirit.