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Gelsey Kirkland Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (2) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (17) | Personal Quotes (10)

Overview (2)

Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
Height 5' 1" (1.55 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Innocent-looking, girlish and pretty, this diminutive and emotional legendary ballerina has had more drama in her real-life than there ever was onstage. While she was called by Mikhail Baryshnikov, himself, "the best of her generation", she was probably more famous for her raging cocaine addiction and off-stage behavior.

Daughter of playwright Jack Kirkland, she grew up with a destiny for the theatre. Her father put her and her sister, Joanna Kirkland, into ballet classes. Gelsey was slow to learn, her sister's body was more equipped -- feet, body shape, limbs and all. But Gelsey wasn't about to be stopped. She put everything she had and more into the dance. Soon, Gelsey and Johnna were admitted into the famed School of American Ballet.

She became a personal favorite of George Balanchine, who choreographed the piece, "Firebird", for her. She idolized him and made him out to be a kind of father figure. But she was crushed when he belittled her ballet idols, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

After Mikhail "Misha" Baryshnikov signed up to join the legendary American Ballet Theater, he asked Gelsey to be his partner. She agreed, enthusiastically, and resigned from NYCB to join him at ABT.

They danced many roles together: "Giselle", "Sleeping Beauty", "Romeo and Juliet". And Baryshnikov's own choreographed interpretation of "The Nutcracker", with himself in the title role. Gelsey at first refused, and Marianna Tcherkassky ended up dancing the role of "Clara" in the Washington D.C. premiere of the production, but she finally did the role afterwards, and danced it in the TV version. Believed to be their finest work together, she and Baryshnikov both danced beautifully and superhumanly, and Gelsey was surely at least as good as her much-more famous partner.

But soon it all came to an end and Misha wound up leaving ABT for the less-glamorous NYCB to learn at the footsteps of Balanchine, himself. Misha's biggest dream was to dance Balanchine's "Prodigal Son". After a long wait, he finally got his wish. He danced with NYCB until Balanchine's inevitable death.

But Gelsey was too busy with problems of her own, back at ABT. Her new partner, Patrick Bissell, a much younger dancer had introduced the lady to cocaine. They had many soap-opera-style problems. Patrick and Gelsey had come together because of their mutual attraction to drugs. Gelsey was destroying her body and Patrick was destroying his body, his talent and even came whiskers away from committing suicide by overdose on several occasions. The two had a romantic relationship (which consisted pretty much of them dancing, doing drugs and sex). They were both fired---and then rehired by ABT for their behavior. Misha eventually returned to the famed ABT. He took on a dual responsibility as principal star dancer and artistic director, taking the place of Lucia Chase.

Gelsey eventually quit ABT and with husband, critic and former cocaine user Greg Lawrence, they packed off and headed for England for Gelsey to dance with the famed Royal Ballet. Gelsey was signed up to dance with principal and star Anthony Dowell. The company asked Gelsey which ballets would she like to dance. Gelsey requested "Romeo and Juliet" and "Giselle". They both, of course, turned out magnificent performances and got the kind of curtain calls every dancer dreams about.

After getting a hairline fracture, Gelsey had to sit a few out. But after healing, Gelsey leapt at the opportunity to dance "Sleeping Beauty". Asked who she would choose as a partner, she selected Stephen Jefferies.

Despite numerous dance injures, a severe drug addiction and all the damage it was doing to her body, Gelsey kept going. Many dancers who had done the same wound up unable to keep dancing and having to retire, or in the hospital, or dead. What happened to her was nothing short of miraculous and a result of just plain determination and heart. She even taught a class, while she was in London, for future aspiring dancers and tutored a young aspiring Spanish dancer with her very first performance of "Giselle".

Eventually Gelsey returned to America and ABT. She wrote her autobiographies "Dancing On My Grave" about her introduction to the life of dance, drugs and obsession, and "The Shape Of Love" about her recovery and life-after in London.

By the time she had returned, Misha had retired. He still dances with his White Oak Dance Project.

Kirkland and her husband Greg collaborated on one more book together, "The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse" in 1993.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: dane youssef

Spouse (2)

Michael Chernov (1997 - present)
Greg Lawrence (1985 - ?) (divorced)

Trivia (17)

Was romantically involved with Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Baryshnikov called her "The best ballerina of her generation."
She appeared as guest artist with the Royal Ballet 1980-1986.
She applied for the position of Artistic Director for a ballet company in Ireland, yet when she got the job, she wound up turning it down - in favor of teaching.
Was inspired to dance by watching a performance of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.
Is a dear friend of Anthony Dowell, artistic director of The Royal Ballet.
Resigned from ABT in May, 1984.
Was on the May 1, 1978 cover of TIME magazine.
Edward Villella described her as having "steel-like legs that are doing the most fantastic technical feats while the upper body is soft and lovely as though nothing were going on underneath" in Time magazine.
Daughter of Jack Kirkland and Nancy Hoadley.
Sister of Joanna Kirkland.
Is now retired from performing and has become teacher and coach. [2004]
Currently lives with her husband, Michael Chernov, in New York City. [December 2010]
Will open and serve on the faculty at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet in New York City. She and her husband, Michael Chernov, are the Artistic Directors. [2010]
Winner of the Dance Magazine Award [2006]
With Kevin McKenzie, she is co-choreographing the upcoming American Ballet Theatre production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "The Sleeping Beauty", in which she will appear in the role of the evil fairy, "Carabosse". [May 2007]
Currently lives in a seaside house in Australia, with her husband and two dogs. [2005]

Personal Quotes (10)

Fortunately for children, the uncertainities of the present always give way to the enchanted possibilities of the future.
The meaning of dance is not contained in the individual steps any more than the meaning of a phrase of music is contained in the individual notes--the meaning of ballet was to be found in the development of a theme, in the relation of the compositional parts to the whole.
The nature of my passion was such that I danced with a passion to spite the music in my sleep. The entire household was sometimes awakened by loud thumping noises coming from my room.
(When going to Russia to see Baryshnikov dance): "I made a snap judgement: He was the greatest male dancer on the face of the earth."
Some say that the 70s and 80s were a golden era of ballet and just being a part of it was extraordinary. I remember working in the studio with a sense of being on a real journey with the teachers and coaches who gave their time freely to me. I'm eternally grateful to the late Stanley Williams, to Maggie Black, David Howard, Pilar Garcia, Greg Lawrence, and of course to all my long-suffering dancing partners.
(Advice to young dancers): "To work slowly, move against the tide. Listen and look behind the surfaces of things. Look back in history. Look forward to hope and look beyond the mirror."
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the people I offended in Dancing on My Grave, such as Baryshnikov and Peter Martins. I would have liked to have had the wisdom to keep my personal problems out of the work. But that's life.
The ballet can touch each one of us. It does this by having strict boundaries that encourage dancers to refine their sense of movement, while struggling towards expression, sort of like squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the bottom and waiting patiently for it to finally overflow at the top.
Ballet is surviving in the small towns of America, probably because parents send their children to learn something that they perceive will help them, like playing a musical instrument. Whether this will survive in this modern world is certainly beyond my ability to answer. If there were money to support worthwhile artistic endeavors, rather than expecting them to generate money, maybe ballet at its best could survive.
In April of this year I taught at American Ballet Theatre in New York and hope to continue teaching in the States. Currently we are working on a book project... based on how a dancer prepares for a role using ballet technique, mime and acting intentions. "Also we are starting to work on a series of CDs, music for several levels that can be used in ballet schools.

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