This Thursday the New York City Ballet Fall 2013 Gala will open with costumes designed by Prabal Gurung. Having spent the last six months working with choreographer and dancer Justin Peck, immersing ourselves in the world of dance, movement and theatre, the more and more we came to realize the extent of dedication and persistence ballerinas devote to their craft, the multitude of hardships they face on a daily basis.
Amongst these dancers there are so many inspiring, infinitely talented and endlessly persevering women, and we felt that in light of the upcoming Gala, this week’s Monday Muse should pay tribute to them.
We were introduced to Wendy Whelan by Peck. At the age of 46, Wendy remains a principal dancer of the New York City Ballet. Not only do most dancers retire well before 40, Wendy also suffers from severe scoliosis - The New York Times recently named Wendy as "America's greatest contemporary ballerina”.
Similarly to many of our past Monday Muses, Whelan gains immense motivation through adversity. She admits to Broadway World, “I thrive on the challenge, the exchange, the collaboration and the discovery. These experiences have shaped my artistic evolution and have kept me motivated and fulfilled.”
A diagnosis of severe scoliosis is crippling for anyone. Requiring constant therapy from a young age, hours a day spent fighting your spine’s inclination to twist and curve with exercises and core work, long periods of time in a hard brace, soft brace, or cast - all the while knowing the likely outcome could simply result in extreme surgery, a fusion of your spine, in order to protect your organs from being crushed, and your body deforming - it without a doubt tests the strongest of characters. To excel as a dancer requires a precision of poise, balance and harmony that feels impossible to achieve with a curved back. However Whelan proves otherwise - after her treatment at the age of 13, her determination remained unwavering, she would continue to attend ballet class in a full cast from her shoulder to her hips.
“I have this crooked body,” she tells The New York Times, “so I have to be really disciplined with it. It has to stay strong and limber, or else it gets tight. I also feel like if my spine is longer and more open, I don’t get depressed." The discipline pays off – Whelan is renowned for being one of the most adaptable, elegant and accomplished dancers in America.
“She’s New York’s treasure,” Mr. Petronio (of Stephen Petronio Company) said. “The longevity of her career has been astounding. She’s like a great architectural building you pass day after day.”
Wendy Whelan is proof of a sincere and dedicated pursuit of beauty against all odds, and someone who refused to give up on her talent. Both qualities we admire without exception, and so she is this Monday’s muse.