Dance: U.S. Ballet Soars

And in model roles, the role model is high-flying Gelsey Kirkland

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 9)

As she grew healthier and stronger, she found it easier to untangle the psychological snarls that had tripped her. Analysis helped; born old, Gelsey decided that it was time to grow up. "I had to want to get well," she says. "I had to have the desire to dance again and work." Gradually it came. She picked up with A.B.T., at first not dancing at full strength. Those who knew what she had been through crossed their fingers, held their breath and marveled. Says Williams: "That she survived all that is remarkable." Soon the "steel-like legs" were as pert as when Villella first saw them. Gelsey was pleased by her recovery but not surprised: "I'm really a survivor at heart."

On tour in Europe last summer, Gelsey and A.B.T. Soloist Richard Schafer, 25, discovered each other. Tall, blond and as unflappable as Gelsey is volatile, Schafer showed her a world beyond ballet. He packed her along on sightseeing jaunts and taught her to be interested in good food and wine. "Richard has helped me more than anybody," says Gelsey. "He makes me laugh about certain things about myself. Just to see how he feels about me makes me feel good." In that frame of mind, Gelsey was primed last autumn to discover the joys of childhood in Baryshnikov's Nutcracker.

"Gelsey no longer feels frantic about a day off," says Schafer, and then hedges: "Or three-quarters of a day off." Her daily routine would still stun an ox. She haunts classes and rehearsals, whether she is performing that evening or not. In preparation for Don Q, she took long sessions in the use of a fan and castanets. If Gelsey were asked to play the lead in Hamlet, she might very well decide to learn Danish.

Then there are her shoes. All dancers are meticulous about their slippers, so Gelsey is fanatic. A toe shoe is a rigid object. To get one of her 50 pairs in shape, she brushes Fabulon floor wax into the shoe to make it even harder. Since hard shoes make noise, she next pounds the stiffness out with a tinsmith's hammer. Then she sews on ribbons and bits of elastic. Done? Almost. Just before a performance she pulls the shoes on over socks, brushes them with fast-drying alcohol and removes the socks. Putting the shoes back on, she says, "That's that, the shoes are comfortable, noiseless and hard."

Gelsey hurtles through her days offstage and out of class with the little-girl giggliness she lacked as a little girl. Her large, airy apartment on Broadway is a treasured refuge, just 15 blocks up from Lincoln Center. The corner drugstore and grocery deliver necessities and cash her checks. A confessed financial innocent, Gelsey has entrusted the care and feeding of her $50,000 plus A.B.T. salary to a relative. Her only real extravagance is an addiction to New York cabs; if her destination is more than four blocks away, Gelsey starts waving an arm. On the street she is indistinguishable from the thousands of women who have achieved thrift-shop eclecticism, a mildly deracinated New York look: jeans or slacks, boots or clogs, bulky sweater, dangling scarf, knit cap.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9