NPR logo

Poetry In Motion: Prima Ballerina Retires After 3-Decade Career

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/356462686/356869642" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Poetry In Motion: Prima Ballerina Retires After 3-Decade Career

Dance

Poetry In Motion: Prima Ballerina Retires After 3-Decade Career

Poetry In Motion: Prima Ballerina Retires After 3-Decade Career

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/356462686/356869642" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Wendy Whelan, 47, principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, will retire Oct. 18 after 30 years with the institution. Her last dance will be a debut with her two longtime partners, Craig Hall and Tyler Angle. Erin Baiano for NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Erin Baiano for NPR

Wendy Whelan, 47, principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, will retire Oct. 18 after 30 years with the institution. Her last dance will be a debut with her two longtime partners, Craig Hall and Tyler Angle.

Erin Baiano for NPR

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.

Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
A collage in Whelan's theater case includes a portrait of her husband (bottom center) and a photo given to her by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon with a hand-drawn angel and devil motif.
Erin Baiano for NPR
A collage in Whelan's theater case includes a portrait of her husband (bottom center) and a photo given to her by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon with a hand-drawn angel and devil motif.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Wendy Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Wendy Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan prepares for one of her last performances of "After the Rain," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and performed with her longtime partner Craig Hall.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan and Hall take their curtain call.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan and Hall take their curtain call.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan and Hall take their curtain call after their performance. The pair received five curtain calls afterward.
Erin Baiano for NPR
Whelan and Hall take their curtain call after their performance. The pair received five curtain calls afterward.
Erin Baiano for NPR

Whelan embraces her husband, David Michalek, in her dressing room after her performance. Erin Baiano for NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Erin Baiano for NPR

Whelan embraces her husband, David Michalek, in her dressing room after her performance.

Erin Baiano for NPR

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

toggle caption
Erin Baiano for NPR