The Life and Work of Gelsey Kirkland
April 30, 2012
According to many skilled dancers, knowledgeable critics, and essential lovers of ballet, Gelsey Kirkland is one of the most well-known and admired American ballerinas of our time. She was born on the 29th of December in 1952, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Jack Kirkland and Nancy Hoadley. Her father Jack was a play writer, known for his production, Tobacco Road. During the making of Tobacco Road, he met his fifth wife Nancy, who played one of the leading roles for the production. The couple married and began living together on the outskirts of New York before entertaining the idea of raising their family on a farm in Pennsylvania, Gelsey’s birthplace. Due to Jack’s previous marriages, he had a large extended family that lived on the farm with them, which made for a very busy and rather chaotic household. Within this extended family, Gelsey had an older sister Johnna, a younger brother Marshall, a half-brother Christopher, and two half-sisters Robin and Patricia. “For a good number of Kirkland’s early years, approximately from the age of two, she remained speechless to the point where her family began to consider her a mute. Although this was later found out to be false during an incident in which she cried out in the desire for a relative to remain at the farm longer, this set the precedent for Kirkland’s life of making a career out of being ‘seen but not heard.’” Around the age of four, Gelsey’s father’s involvement in lavish spending and deteriorating wealth, which accumulated from his famous playwrights, caused the family to give up the farm and relocate to Manhattan, in Central Park West. As the family’s funds continued to dissipate, they moved to three different apartments, ultimately taking a toll on the man in charge of the household, Jack. Eventually, personal problems began to take a toll on the entire family, Gelsey especially, as her father became an alcoholic, which caused him to suffer from a total of five heart attacks. After watching her father’s downward spiral, Gelsey rebelled in the way that had been most familiar for her: not saying a word. Appropriate for this unhealthy environment Gelsey and her family had been placed in, her mother enrolled her in ballet classes at the age of eight, which caused her to follow in the footsteps of her older sister Johnna. At this time, Gelsey’s mother simply saw ballet as a safe activity for her and did not envision it as the extravagant career it later turned out to be. Nevertheless, she was the one to take Gelsey to her first audition at The School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center, the official training academy of the New York City Ballet, which was established in 1934 by legendary choreographer George Balanchine and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein as the first and the most essential step in their quest to create an American classical ballet company.” This opportunity eventually placed her in the first division of the academy. Therefore, Gelsey became involved in dance at a very young age. However, she was not always the extremely gifted and talented dancer she is known as today, which is what makes her such a unique, hardworking dancer. In fact, in the beginning, her sister Johnna was a far better dancer than she was. Gelsey was not born an amazing dancer, but instead worked to obtain the talent and ability she came to possess later on in her life. As a whole, her struggle to become a good dancer foreshadows the obstacles she faced later in life. Her dedication and determination from the very beginning was most recognized when she began taking extra ballet classes and even quit high school in order to turn her focus towards perfecting her ballet technique. Thus, she was invited by George Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet when she was fifteen years old in 1968, indicating the beginning of her career as an established ballet dancer. Balanchine,...
Cited: Fisher, Jennifer. "Nutcracker" nation: how an Old World ballet became a Christmas tradition in the New World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
Kirkland, Gelsey, and Greg Lawrence. Dancing on My Grave. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1986.
Kirkland, Gelsey, and Greg Lawrence. The Shape of Love: The Story of Dancing on My Grave Continues. New York, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1990.
Lydon, Kate. "Straight from the heart: Gelsey Kirkland looks back… and ahead." Dance Magazine, September 1, 2005.
[ 5 ]. Fisher, Jennifer. "Nutcracker" nation: how an Old World ballet became a Christmas tradition in the New World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
[ 8 ]. Kirkland, Gelsey, and Greg Lawrence. Dancing on My Grave. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1986.
[ 10 ]. Lydon, Kate. "Straight from the heart: Gelsey Kirkland looks back … and ahead." Dance Magazine, September 1, 2005.
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