By Lilah Ramzi
16 July 2019
IT’S A SUBLIME SPRING day in New York, but Wendy Whelan wouldn’t know a thing about it. She’s spent the day in the windowless studios of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, where rehearsals for George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet are under way. Today she’s dressed in dark skinny jeans and a navy cardigan, but even in this everyday outfit, you can see a body sculpted by the three decades she spent at New York City Ballet, 28 of those years as a principal dancer. In a profession where women often bow out by their mid-30s, Whelan’s tenure onstage was remarkable. Now 52, she has become the first woman in the company’s history to hold a permanent position within the artistic leadership. “I never imagined myself here,” she says. “I just thought, That’s usually a guy’s role.”
Her appointment as the associate artistic director of NYCB in February—alongside Jonathan Stafford as the new artistic director of NYCB and School of American Ballet—not only ended a tumultuous year, it also signaled that the company was in need of a dramatic shift. In January of 2018, Peter Martins, the NYCB’s star dancer turned ballet master in chief, retired, his resignation precipitated by accusations of sexual harassment. (Martins maintains his innocence, and the NYCB’s investigation did not corroborate the allegations.) Then, just days before the fall season, City Ballet fired two male dancers (the company had earlier accepted the resignation of a third) accused of sharing explicit photos of female dancers. The company would “not put art before common decency,” announced principal dancer Teresa Reichlen in a speech delivered on the evening of the fall gala, standing onstage with her fellow dancers.
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