vanity fair
June 2007
By Laura Jacobs
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark


Rudi, Suzanne, Peter, Misha, Twyla, Merce, and Mr. B, not to mention Liza with a Z‑the 70s boom in American dance did not want for stars who were artists. None, however, burned with the intensity of American Ballet Theatre's Gelsey Kirkland, she of the Little Match Girl face and the incendiary pursuit of truth. Having risen to stardom at New York City Ballet, she was lured to A.B.T. in 1974 by the recent defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, a partnership that was box‑office magic, but behind the scenes love‑hate. Ten years later, when Kirkland left A.B.T. to dance and coach abroad, a swath of heat and light left with her. And when she published her rebellious tell‑all, Dancing on My Grave, in 1986, a question emerged: did she love her gift for this art form or loathe it?

The answer is love. Gelsey Kirkland's return after more than 20 years to both New York City and A.B.T. is marked this spring with a new production of The Sleeping Beauty. Her contribution is threefold. First, the staging of the ballet has been done by Kirkland and A.B.T. artistic director Kevin McKenzie, with assistance by Michael Chernov. "She's a heavyweight in the field," McKenzie says, "and we always worked well together in the past. It's a good time. It's a good fit."

Kirkland will also coach dancers in their roles. "Deconstruct and reconstruct," she says of her search for illumination. "To find a sense of style that's connected to meaning, that's an exploration that is worthy of The Sleeping Beauty."

Thirdly and thrillingly, Kirkland will take the stage as the evil fairy Carabosse, one of the great character roles in ballet, and, Kirkland says, "great fun." Light. Heat. Welcome back, Gelsey.