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    Interview by Emily Bingham
    Illustration by Kendall Regan

    After three decades with the New York City Ballet, ballerina Wendy Whelan retired in October 2014. This month, on Oct. 24, the 49-year-old Louisville native, who lives in Manhattan on the Upper West Side, returns to her hometown for a conversation about her life (including her future in dance) titled “To the Point,” at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater. The author Emily Bingham will conduct the interview.


    Earliest childhood memory?

    “My brother, Patrick, and I playing with our dog George Beagle on the kitchen floor of our old house, on Plymouth Road in St. Matthews, when we were toddlers in the late ’60s.” 


    All-time-favorite album?

    “Probably the soundtrack to Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. I have loved them since I was a little kid.” 


    The weirdest place somebody has recognized you in public?

    “I was walking on the street and a fan once yelled out very kind words to me from the window of their moving cab.”


    Your drink?

    “Green tea when I am on good behavior, which is most of the time. Ketel One and tonic on other occasions.”


    Your favorite thing hanging on the walls of your home?

    “A framed portrait that my seven-year-old niece drew of me.”


    Favorite possession? 

    “My engagement and wedding rings. I’m trying not to collect any things any more. I’m eager to unload stuff.”



    “Consignment/thrift-store shopping. And Law & Order reruns.”


    What brings you the greatest joy?

    “My cats, my nieces and nephew and moving my body.” 


    Who’s somebody doing big things in Louisville under the radar? 

    “Two people I have grown up with and am inspired by. One is my friend Lisa Gunterman, who is, among other things, a lifelong advocate for the LGBTQ community. The other is my brother Patrick, who founded Soberoo, which provides a safe-haven tent at music festivals nationwide for people recovering from addiction.” 


    What are you wearing right now?

    “Boy shorts and a long-sleeve T-shirt.”


    What Louisville dish have you eaten more than any other?

    “Toss up between cheese grits and Derby Pie. I’ve enjoyed a fair share of each of those delicacies!” 


    All-time-favorite Kentucky Derby winner?

    “Go for Gin, the 1994 winner, because that Derby Day was the same day I made my debut as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. It was my first full-length ballet, and I have always considered it my own personal Run for the Roses. Sleeping Beauty actually has a fiendishly difficult dance in it called ‘The Rose Adagio.’ It’s quite a test to make it through that part.” 


    What superstition do you believe in?

    “A prayer to St. Anthony when I lose something.”


    Favorite movie scene?

    “Probably the end of Cinema Paradiso, with the kiss montage and that amazing music.”


    What’s something you wish you had known when you were younger?

    “That I was beautiful.”


    What three people would be on the guest list to your ideal dinner party?

    “On a recent transatlantic flight I listened to a five-hour podcast on David Bowie, which made me want to experience dinner with three different stages of Bowie: early-, mid- and late-life Bowie, all together at the same table.” 


    The last thing you bought online?

    “A new charger for one of my physical-therapy devices.”


    What triggers your “aha!” moment?

    “An open mind, I guess. They are called ‘aha!’ moments because they come out of nowhere, when you least expect it. You have to be open and ready to receive them.”


    One thing Louisville is missing?

    “The old Vogue movie theater in St Matthews. There’s nothing else like it.”


    Do you believe in ghosts?

    “I do believe in past life energy around us. I have clearly felt it on occasions.” 


    What’s something nobody knows about you?

    “Even though I still take a ballet class and dance every day, I hate wearing leotards or ballet shoes now. I wear socks or go barefoot, and I love linen T-shirts and loose cotton pants. I can’t stand wearing tight clothing or a tight hairdo anymore.”


    Plus 8 More:

    Where do you go to be alone?
    “Into a cab.”

    What word do you overuse?
    “Great and yeah.”

    What tattoos do you have?
    “None. Never. NO WAY.”

    Secret talent?
    “Photography and writing.”

    If Actors Theatre staged a production about your life, what would the performance be called?
    “Barefoot Ballerina.”

    What should every person try once?
    “Not sure I should say it in public.”

    Your most noticeable quirk?
    “These days, I squint a lot. I’ve hit that age!” 

    The first thing on your bucket list?
    “I really need to experience Hawaii.” 


    This originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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