Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Dancer's Life

ah... Gelsey Kirkland. At the mention of her name, almost anyone who knows anything about dance looks up. Indisputably one of the best American dancers of the twentieth century, she embodied Balanchine's ideal body type and dancer. Born December 29, 1952, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she decided to become a dancer after watching a performance of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Such was her determination and skill, that she joined New York City Ballet at the invitation of Balanchine at the age of fifteen, in 1968. She was quickly promoted to soloist in 1969, then principal in 1972 (for those of you doing the math, yes, she was only eighteen when promoted to principal). Many of the leads in twentieth-century ballet masterpieces were created for her, including Balanchine's 'The Firebird,' Robbins' 'Goldberg Variations,' and Tudor's 'Leaves are Fading.' She then joined American Ballet Theater at the invitation of Mikhail Baryshnikov. There, she became known to Americans everywhere when she starred as Clara in Baryshnikov's 1977 televised choreography of 'The Nutcracker.' She retired from ABT in 1984, only to come back to dancing in 1986. But her life was not all glorious dancing and supreme artistry. She battled eating disorders and drug addictions for most of her career, something she talks about extensively in her 1986 autobiography, 'Dancing on My Grave.' Later, in 1990, she published a continuation of this, 'The Shape of Love, The Story of Dancing on My Grave Continues.' Currently, she lives in Australia, where she coaches young dancers. It is so interesting how such a wonderful dancer, with such expression and clarity of movement could have such demons plaguing her. Clicking on the title will bring you to a youtube video of Kirkland in Coppelia. This video shows her at her best. The steps are not truly hard to do; but it is the way she does them that shows her artistry. For more on Kirkland, visit,

posted by Sophie Lewis


Vicky said...

Dear Suzanne,

My name is Vitoria and I am from CL in London, UK. Next year I will be marrying a wonderful catholic man from NM and I could see there is no SoC there. My fiance doesn't know CL yet, although I am always talking about it and gave him some Traces to read. I want to find out where our closest group would be so we could atend some Assemblies, as my plan is to devoute a couple of hours everyweek to discuss about Don Giussani's writtings within our families. I won't dare call it SoC as I don't feel prepared for such, but I want to do my best and to as The Holy Spirit for guidance. I wonder if you could help me pointing me in some direction, please.

In Christ,

Suzanne said...

Dear Vitoria, please email me at
suzanne dot ciellina at gmail dot com
and we can have a conversation about these things! Thank you for asking me!

Emily said...

Are those "demons" really that rare in professional ballet? It seems that some degree of self-starvation would be almost a prerequisite.

I've been a fan of Gelsey Kirkland the artist since I first watched Baryshnikov's Nutcracker -- and from what I understand, that was her "comeback" role after overcoming the drug addiction.

(I also understand she had a good deal of plastic surgery to create a perfect "line.")

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."