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The Dance Insider Interview, 4-7: Gelsey Kirkland
'Abstraction is coming to its logical end'

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010 Paul Ben-Itzak

When it comes to serious professional ballet training, New York City has always lacked one thing: A full-time academy directed by a major and accomplished ballet personality. Until now. In its ambitions, anyway, the new Gelsey Kirkland Academy, directed by the legendary ballerina and her dancer husband, Michael Chernov, is posed to fill that vacuum. And, on a larger and globally even more significant scale, posed to champion the revival of the story ballet both in its training and in the establishment of an associated performing ensemble. I interviewed Kirkland via e-mail.

Paul Ben-Itzak: Why found an academy at this time?

Gelsey Kirkland: My husband, co-artistic director Michael Chernov and I have been preparing for this for many years. Conception and birth do not always have an economic timeline.

PBI: New York has no shortage of professional ballet training programs. What will yours offer that is unique?

GK: Many people say how much they miss new story ballets. Our intensive training program is aimed at the full cultural development of young artists, to provide each student with a dynamic range of technical skills, coupled with that elusive quality known as the artist's 'sensitivity of soul.' We are committed to developing classical dancers who are capable of expressing powerful theatrical ideas in ballet through a rich understanding of other artistic disciplines, cultures and traditions. Training young dancers in these techniques is part of our mission.

PBI: What will be the academy's misison, and focus?

GK: We believe that in ballet, along with all the other classical arts, the 20th century experiment with abstraction is coming to its logical end. Abstract ballet is increasingly seen as diminished or abstract of meaning. Many people leave the theater after a ballet performance impressed by technique and athleticism, but disappointed, with their hearts untouched. We advocate a return to story ballet through the collaboration of world-class choreographers and dancers, librettists, dramaturgs, composers, musical directors, designers and theater directors.

PBI: Related to the above, will the pedagogy follow any particular school?

GK: The training syllabus is based on traditional Russian, Danish and French techniques, incorporating kinesthetic and remedial practices, all guided by proven scientific methodology. The academy's syllabus is also informed by my training with teachers such as Stanley Williams, David Howard, Maggie Black and Pilar Garcia as well as my training as a teacher with Robert Ray and Nina Osipyan.

My personal experience in bringing the great classics to life as well as working with some of the great choreographers of the 20th century, choreographers such as Tudor, Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Robbins, etcetera, brings a unique sensibility to the syllabus, focusing it towards my belief in story-telling on stage.

PBI: What are you looking for in student candidates?

GK: First and foremost, talent, love of work, dance quality, acting skills and hunger.

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