The program that Wendy chose displayed her shrewdness and intelligence. It carefully highlighted what she could still do -- in particular, use her remarkable body as a sculptural instrument to carve positions in the air. In La Sonnambula her tiny, wispy frame still looked as ghostly as ever, her large eyes spooky and soulless. Robert Fairchild, Sara Mearns, and Daniel Ulbricht, all stars in their own right, tacitly toned down their usual high-energy performances so the spotlight was on Wendy.
The second chunk of the programming was perhaps the best. Excerpts from Dances at a Gathering that ended with that always crowdpleasing move of the peach girl (Wendy) being thrown and twisted in the air (and Zachary Catazaro making a great catch). The adagio from Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH was maybe THE highlight of the evening. Tyler Angle partnered Wendy as if she were a goddess, and the choreography showed off the tender, lyrical side of Wendy's dancing that was often forgotten when she was in her prime, as people considered her to be that kickass B&W ballet queen who could contort her body into any shape she wanted. And finally, there was the inevitable After the Rain pas de deux with Craig Hall. For 10 minutes, the audience was pindrop silent as Arvo Pärt's beautiful scored played in the background and Wendy and Craig carved themselves into the by-now very familiar shapes of Wheeldon's signature work.
Now, here's the thing. After the Rain has become such a Wendy calling card that the NYCB has programmed this piece to death since its premiere. Is it a great piece of choreography? Well, as my friend pointed out during intermission ... not exactly? It's effective, and the acrobatic poses are striking, but Wendy made it into a repertory staple. I can't picture other ballerinas being able to move through those poses with such slow control, and displaying such strength even as she fell into Craig Hall's chest repeatedly. One wonderful thing about Wendy: she could make pieces better than they actually were just by being her.
In between the works in the second part of the program there were two brief films of Wendy. Both showed her earthy fun sense of humor. They also showed beautiful clips of her earlier days. I'll always remember Wendy as that unbeatably flexible girl in the Agon pas de deux who could also be a beautiful Sugarplum Fairy (her shoulder jumps were always awe-inspiring). If there was a role Wendy was outright bad in, I can't remember it.
The final piece on the program was a little oddity. A joint effort by Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky, called By 2 With & From, the score was a Max Richter adaptation of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The choreography was basically a tribute to Wendy -- Tyler Angle and Craig Hall took turns partnering Wendy in moments that were alternately solemn (the Wheeldon half) and more offbeat and fun (the Ratmansky half). The final pose was Wendy being held aloft in the air, her back arched proudly for the last time.
And then it was time for the floral tributes, the cheering, the bows, the confetti, the streamers. But maybe the most touching tribute from Wendy came from a security guard who had checked my bags when I first picked up the tickets earlier that evening. "Wendy could do anything," he said. "And she is a nice girl." I murmured something about them all being nice, and he said, "No, but she was NICE." So many people turned up for Wendy Whelan's farewell not simply because they admired her. She was loved.