Monday, July 2, 2012

Gelsey Kirkland: It's All Good If You Make It So

  For whatever reasons, Mr. B seemed to favor me, and I was determined to prove myself worthy of his affection.  During the fourth year of my training, he assembled a number of teachers in the school for a review of my class.  Accompanied by piano, he demonstrated a combination of steps across the floor of the studio and asked the students to follow his example in a line.  His special instructions called for us to perform the steps with "energy," one of his pet concepts.  When my turn arrived, I took off with such speed and exuberance, so anxious was I to please, that I took a nasty spill.  With the resounding tumble of my body on the wood, the music stopped and all eyes glared at me. as if I interrupted a church service with some blasphemous utterance.  The exception was Balanchine.

     In the midst of my terrible embarrassment, he applauded, saying, "You see, everybody, this girl is the only one who understood.  I ask for energy, and all of you were lazy, lazy, lazy.  But Gelsey has it -- energy!"

NOTE:  The text appearing above is excerpted from Dancing On My Grave, Gelsey Kirkland's remarkable first volume of autobiography, co-written with Greg Lawrence.  I mostly distrust and devalue young people's (usually young celebrities') autobiographies, but this book, published when Ms. Kirkland was only 34 years old, is a distinct exception.  Kirkland had, by that point in her life, been working as a professional dancer for twenty years and had achieved and nearly destroyed a spectacular, highly dramatic career.

Caroline recently reminded me of this Kirkland anecdote and I wanted to present it because earlier today a friend recalled that idiotic expression "it's all good."  It isn't, obviously.  Achieving quality requires hard work.  (I'm reminded of the Proust galley proof page showing revisions that same friend posted Here. Here's another.) Although Gelsey Kirkland's story about "falling/failing up" for Balanchine might seem self-aggrandizing in isolation, the succeeding two paragraphs (found on p. 36 of the hardcover edition of the book) show that it isn't, and Kirkland's autobiography is a mercilessly honest self-examination of and by a great artist.  

It is marvelous that Gelsey Kirkland is back teaching and sometimes dancing in New York and that her career didn't end with Dancing On My Grave.


  1. This is a wonderful anecdote. I also despise the hackneyed phrase, "It's all good". That's never, ever true. On the other hand, the converse is never, ever true either, in my opinion. Thank goodness.

  2. I'm glad you liked this. I highly recommend Dancing On My Grave. It's a terrific book, which is also very funny in many places. The humor lightens the considerable drama. As for "it's all good," I once suffered through life in a highly dysfunctional workplace where that was the mantra. As proof that it's not all good, I'm currently on interminable hold with a medical billing office. Curtis