Dancing On My Feet
Gelsey Kirkland at Northwest Dance Intensive 2009
by Dean Speer
Fun, mellow, engaged, lively, a great laugh; these are some of the qualities that quickly revealed themselves as I gave legendary American ballerina Gelsey Kirkland and her husband, Michael Chernov, a tour of the spacious studios they would occupy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington during the Northwest Dance Intensive’s second week, July 6-10, 2009.
I was impressed with the quickness of her mind, her good humor and her sincere interest in the students and the program. Both she and Mr. Chernov were prepared for their classes and the students were gleeful and eager to work hard for each of them.
Kirkland used imagery, infused with technical information which inspired and pushed the dancers literally to new levels. One example being tombé, pas de bourée, sauté passé. In this one, she had them slap their thighs in an upward motion through first position port de bras, which had the effect of phrasing the step on the jump and also giving more elevation and push.
Each of the three levels was nudged and encouraged to reach beyond themselves. The most advanced level was given delightful small allegro steps with quick changes of direction and for their pointe class, combinations that made use of transfers of weight while simultaneously changing from effacé to the other diagonal effacé while making large développés front and relevés into arabesque. For someone who has titanium hips, she bounced along with the classes very effectively, demonstrating or indicating the desired outcome.
Part of the embedded joyful glee for the students was the glamour factor. Without a doubt – including one teacher who just about swooned and passed out when she “had a Gelsey sighting” and who had to be fanned and reminded to breathe. All she could say for awhile was “Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!” I’m not making this up.
On the evening of the last full day of instruction, the students were lined up – about 75 long – to get their pointe shoes or copy of one of Kirkland’s books autographed. Some had other things for her to sign such as autograph books, T- and sweatshirts and a couple had that wonderful, large coffee table book about American Ballet Theatre that came out a few years ago. Kirkland was gracious and sweet with each one. She cheerfully joined the entire student body and teachers for a group memory photograph.
I was impressed that both she and her husband attended the Intensive’s showcase of the students performance. They had nice things to say and seemed to be genuinely impressed.
During a concluding dinner party at the director’s home, stories and hearty laughs were shared, a Russian prayer was said and, as we made our respective ways home, we all agreed that we hoped our future paths might cross.
Kirkland and all of us, dancing on our feet.