Wendy Whelan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where at the age of three she began taking dance classes with Virginia Wooton, a local teacher. At age eight she performed as a mouse with the Louisville Ballet in its annual production of The Nutcracker. Joining the Louisville Ballet Academy that year, she began intense professional ballet training. In 1981 she received a scholarship to the summer course at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, and a year later, became a full-time student there. In 1984, Ms. Whelan danced as an apprentice with New York City Ballet. Ms. Whelan became a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet in January 1986. She was promoted to the rank of soloist during the 1989 spring season and to the rank of principal dancer in the 1991 spring season. Ms. Whelan has performed a wide spectrum of the Balanchine repertory and worked closely with Jerome Robbins on many of his ballets. She has originated featured roles in seven ballets by Christopher Wheeldon and all four of Alexei Ratmansky’s ballets made for NYCB, as well as in the ballets of William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor, Jorma Elo, and Twyla Tharp.
Ms. Whelan has performed as a guest artist with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden and the Maryinsky Ballet at the Maryinsky Theater. She has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
In 2002, Ms. Whelan appeared in the nationally televised Live from Lincoln Center broadcast "New York City Ballet's Diamond Project: Ten Years of New Choreography" on PBS, dancing in Red Angels, and in May of 2004 she appeared in the Live from Lincoln Center broadcast of "Lincoln Center Celebrates Balanchine 100," dancing in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.
In 2015, Ms. Whelan continues her national tour of Restless Creature, the evening-length program of original works by Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks, and Alejandro Cerrudo that she premiered at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2013. Whelan is also developing a second program of new works with Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Edward Watson, which is scheduled to premiere in London in July of 2015. In addition, Whelan has recently been appointed Artistic Associate at New York’s City Center, which will serve as her home for developing future projects for the next two years, and is scheduled to host the New York premiere of her collaboration with Watson during the spring of 2016.
Ms. Whelan appeared as "Coffee" in the film version of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker™, produced by Elektra Entertainment/New Regency Enterprises, and released in the winter of 1993.
Ms. Whelan received the 2007 Dance Magazine Award, and in 2009 was given a Doctorate of Arts, honoris causa, from Bellarmine University. In 2011, she was honored with both The Jerome Robbins Award and a Bessie Award for her Sustained Achievement in Performance.
Portrait © David Michalek