19.10.14

Wendy Whelan, principal dancer New York City Ballet


"Dancing in a ballet company really bonds people for life; it's like being in the Army together," says Whelan.

Not every dancer can be a ballerina, and not every ballerina gets to dance with the New York City Ballet. So when one makes it, and then stays with the company for three decades, it's a big deal. Wendy Whelan is that ballerina. And on Saturday night, at 47 years old, she'll give her final New York City Ballet performance before she retires.

"I'm sure I'll get very emotional after," Whelan says. "I don't expect to get emotional during. It's not my style, I just don't do that. But I'll probably enter a depression, and I just know that I will do that because I always do that after a big ballet experience. ... But this is the end of a ballet career, so that's a bit bigger than just a season of ballet."

NPR sent Erin Baiano to photograph the prima ballerina as Whelan prepared for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall. The pair received five curtain calls after the performance.

Audience members cried as they watched Whelan dance: Her body can still communicate a sort of universal poetry. To hear her story, click on the link above.

Poetry In Motion: Prima Ballerina Wendy Whelan Retires After 3-Decade Career by Nina Gregory October 17, 2014.

Wendy Whelan, 47, principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, will retire Oct. 18 after 30 years with the institution. © Erin Baiano for NPR 
© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR 

© Erin Baiano for NPR