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Cynthia GregoryA deeply missed opportunity for me!!


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#1 GeorgeB fan

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Posted 25 August 2005 - 04:44 PM

I just recently purchase American Ballet Theatre in San Francisco on DVD. I brought it for sole reason to finally have on tape Antony Tudor's classic Jardin aux Lilas! While the performance was marvelous and certainly worth having on tape, the real big surprise for me was watching Cynthia Gregory perform the Black Swan Pas de deux with Fernando Bujones! OH MY GOD!!! THIS WOMEN IS AMAZING!!! Not that I haven't seen her on tape before - I also have ABT at the Met with her dancing a fantastic Paquita - but not even that performance perpare me for her performance as Odile!

First from a purely technical view point she is unbelievable. What are her legs made of? Because it's not of flesh and bones, more like steel and iron! The calm control she has, the ease in which she uses her technique, the way she just suspend herself slowly on point was fabulous! She really does give you the illusion that what she is doing is effortless!!

Then there is her theatrical presence and how she uses her technique to add to the excitement at watching her on stage! Her Odile was pure evil seductress. She was haughty, cold, confidence in her power at seducing Siegfried - Bujones was wonderful, but boy did Gregory overpowered him - but was intelligent enough to add touches of Odette in her phrasing to make Siegfried believe he is dancing with his white swan.

I finally understand that quote I've read somewhere in where Rudolf Nureyev once called her America's Prima Ballerina Assoluta. Because that is exactly how she danced. She is very much the star, the diva, the queen bee!! She is very much in charge, grand and larger then life! Norma Desmond once said famously, "I am big, it's the pictures that gotten small!". While after watching Gregory it can be said that Cynthia Gregory was big it's the ballets that has gotten small!

So tell me people what was she like performing live? I need to hear stories!! This is the sad thing about coming to ballet so late; you miss so many great performances by great artists like Gregory. The only pleasure you get is seeing them on tape, but of course that pleasure is nothing compare to have been able to see them live!!! Give me your memories!! PLEASE :thumbsup: :beg:

#2 Gina Ness

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Posted 25 August 2005 - 09:36 PM

I really do love to hear praises sung of Cynthia Gregory. I have always considered her to be one of the greatest American dancers to ever grace the stage. She is also a very sweet person. I met her when she came back and guested with SFB (this, after she had left the company for ABT). Lew Christensen saw her tremendous promise; she was a star at SFB at a very young age. I believe she performed her first Odette/Odile with ABT in her hometown of San Francisco. Someone told me (a reliable source) that he saw her sitting in the hallway backstage several hours before the performance looking at a comic book, like she didn't have a care in the world. I've always loved this story. I wasn't there, so I cannot say if it is a true story, but I really like to believe it is! :thumbsup:

#3 bart

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 11:50 AM

I echo George B Fan and hope posters will share their memories and thoughts.

Unfortunately I was not a big fan of ABT (the classics, anyway) in my youth, and I tended to see ABT performances only from seats that were FAR from the stage. So I don't always have detailed memories of what I saw. I seem to recall Gregory as being outstanding in Tudor and other non-classical roles and can't for the life of me remember Swan Lake or things like that.

Am I confusing things when I think of Lilac Garden, Fall River Legend, Moor's Pavane, and similar repertoire? There was indeed a time when Gregory was the most highly praised American ballerina. But --such is memory -- I need help in recalling exactly why.

#4 Gina Ness

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 02:50 PM

Ms. Gregory was one of the most natural dancers I have ever seen. By this, I mean that ballet technique just seemed like it came easier to her than to many. This, coupled with her dedication, made for an absolutely great dancer with amazing technical finesse. She had a phenominal sense of balance and turning ability; gorgeous port de bras (arm movements); divine musicality and phrasing of movement; impeccable line; a beautiful physique and statuesque bearing. I saw her dance MOSTLY the classics: Odette/Odile, Swanhilda, Giselle...Paquita, Sylvia pas de deux...She danced first movement principal Symphony in C with SFB when she came back to guest (I was 4th Movement principal). She was wonderful in first movement. As you can see, I was and am a huge fan of hers :( , and I was so thrilled to be on the same stage with her in our hometown of San Francisco. Sometimes I have read that people found her style a bit cold and aloof, but I just didn't see her that way. Everyone has their own, valid opinions, likes, and dislikes. I know this forum is more focused on ballet lovers and patrons who support the art on the other side of the footlights; I participated during much of my life on the stage side. But I also attended many performances of touring companies, too. I learn a lot reading this forum. Thanks, all... :)

#5 Helene

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 01:02 AM

Am I confusing things when I think of Lilac Garden, Fall River Legend, Moor's Pavane, and similar repertoire?  There was indeed a time when Gregory was the most highly praised American ballerina.  But --such is memory -- I need help in recalling exactly why.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'm not sure about these ballets, but she was lauded in the role of Hagar in Pillar of Fire, and her performance in it was televised.

#6 atm711

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 07:18 AM

I'm not sure about these ballets, but she was lauded in the role of Hagar in Pillar of Fire, and her performance in it was televised.

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I didn't know there was a tape of Gregory as Hagar; all I know is the one with Sallie Wilson.

#7 Drew

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 09:02 AM

Everyone has their own perspective. I too enjoyed Gregory--but in my memory, her reputation was very much as a ballerina with a steely technique. She always got raves for the quality of her bravura dancing--though a cigarette smoking "grand pas classique" (literally: she had a cigarette in her mouth for the performance) was criticized as over the top. I didn't see that, but definitely remember her as an extremely accomplished ballerina who was always impressive in these types of roles.

So, as I recall, she was never known as a dance actress--not to say she couldn't be a dance actress but that was not the basis for her reputation. Later in her career she did take on some famous dramatic roles including Lizzie Borden in De Mille's Fall River Legend. I saw the latter in Chicago and found it an impressive performance, but I was, in fact, somewhat surprised at the time, as I wouldn't have expected her to be effective in a role like that. She was tallish for a ballerina--and a real physical presence--and she made those qualities part of who Lizzie was.

I mention that she was tallish, actually taller than many of the leading ballerinas of her day, and she seemed to have trouble finding the right partner. She discussed this often in interviews, and ABT brought in a number of tall and impressive men to dance with her, including Michel Denard of the Paris Opera for a brief guest stint and for a longer term stay John Meehan. They also paired her with Godunov after his defection. In interviews Gregory expressed great excitement about the latter -- and, in my opinion, the interview was informed by the assumption that just as the Baryshnikov partnership had (seemingly) brought Gelsey Kirkland to the super-stardom and acclaim rarely accorded home grown Americans (like Gregory) so this would do the same for her...However that may have been the journalist's way of shaping the interview.


In any case, the irony is that neither Meehan nor Godunov really worked all that well with Gregory as a pairing. I saw her twice with Godunov and they didn't mesh stylistically or temperamentally. Others may have liked them better together than I did, but they did not end up dancing together all that often. (I never saw her with Meehan, but they did not pursue a partnership, so I am assuming it didn't work as well as had been hoped. Ironically I did see Meehan partner Kirkland in a ravishing account of Three Preludes which is a purely lyrical showpiece with a lot of tricky partnering.)

Actually, Gregory often ended up dancing with Bujones, though they never quite achieved the "partnership" status accorded to pairings like Sibley/Dowell or, for that matter, Kirkland/Baryshnikov. (I never saw them together, but reviews gave the impression that they were outdoing each in other razzle dazzle in ways that were quite entertaining if not always to the reviewer's taste.)

I saw her dance the classics, but don't have too many vivid memories. I do recall that I found her much more impressive in Swan Lake which I saw her do early-ish in her career--when she still had "the wittiest nose in ballet since Tanaquil Leclerq's" (that's Arlene Croce) than in Giselle, which I saw her dance years later and which she danced in a very waif-like manner. Since she was not remotely waif-like, this was not, in my opinion, a good choice for her, although she was skillful enough to make Act I "work"--In the performance I saw, Act II fell decidedly flat, as if the romantic style were entirely foreign to her. The Swan Lake, on the other hand, seemed to really fill the stage--it was one of my first full-length Swan Lakes (and may have been one of Gregory's), but I don't think I'm wrong that she was a better Odette/Odile than Giselle. I think the role suited her innately more "grand" presence better than Giselle.

I also saw her in contemporary ballets in which I remember her as alway extremely impressive--sleek and strong. The pas de deux she danced with Denard--Unfinished Symphony--I very vaguely remembering as also having a lyrical/sensual quality, and I also thought that was one pairing that really worked. Unfortunately, he never became a regular at ABT--I don't know that they ever danced together again. Also, these were judgments formed when I was very young...I sort of trust myself but not 100%. I remember that "Unfinished Symphony" more vividly that some other Gregory "showpiece" performances I saw, and I like to believe there is reason for that other than youthful impressionability.

#8 sandik

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 03:11 PM

She danced Firebird with Meehan (it's on tape somewhere) and I thought she had stunning timing -- the sequence after the Prince catches the Firebird and she's trying to escape, where everything is distilled into her wrists and hands (before the music swells and they start the adagio) was just right.


I wound up seeing her final performance with ABT accidentally (we'd booked tickets to see a Tharp piece, before the company announced that Gregory would be retiring with Swan Lake act II) and she was wonderful. Oddly enough, it was her arms again that left the biggest impression -- as she bourees off-stage left her arms transform from woman to swan -- a calculated theatrical effect but a very powerful one.

#9 richard53dog

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 03:16 PM

Everyone has their own perspective. I too enjoyed Gregory--but in my memory, her reputation was very much as a ballerina with a steely technique.


I also saw her in contemporary ballets in which I remember her as alway extremely impressive--sleek and strong.  The pas de deux she danced with Denard--Unfinished Symphony--

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I saw Gregory mostly early-ish. I think she also did Grand Pas Classique with Denard, but that's from memory so I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

I've said this before, I never liked more her , only less, the more I saw her. But again, that's opinion

But I have to agree with some of Gina's comments. She had a very striking sense of bearing, and a very pure sense of line. I sort of think of this as the look of "western" ballerinas before we saw a lot of Russian ballerinas on a regular basis and the whole alignment seemed to altered.


And no question, she had an amazing virtuoso technique. Yikes, those turns and balances.

Richard

Edited by richard53dog, 30 August 2005 - 06:43 AM.


#10 Estelle

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 04:26 PM

I saw Gregory mostly early-ish. I think she also did Grand Pas Classique with Denard, but that's from memory so I wouldn't bet the farm on it.


Here are Denard's roles at ABT as listed in his biography by Sylvia Chaban (I don't know which ones were danced with Cynthia Gregory): Paquita, The River, Gaieté Parisienne, Etudes in 1971, La Symphonie inachevée, Helen of Troy, Giselle in 1972, Coppelia, Variations for four, Swan Lake in 1973, Apollo, Lilac Garden, Napoli, Les Sylphides in 1974, La Sylphide, La Symphonie inachevée, Flower festival in Genzano in 1975.

"Grand pas classique" is not listed (but Chaban's list might be not complete). The ABT web site says the company premiere of Grand pas classique was performed in November 1972 by Cynthia Gregory and Ted Kivitt.

#11 carbro

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 04:30 PM

Richard, I'm with you. I never liked the quality of her movement -- she lacked lyricism. I can't quite describe it -- clunky is way too strong, but it was not quite the smooth, organic quality I see in the dancers I like best. It bothered me most in the classics. I didn't mind her so much in pieces where she wore something besides the classical or romantic tutu. DeMille, Tudor, Tetley, -- in those, she was fine.

#12 Drew

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 04:41 PM

Estelle I had no idea Denard danced that much with ABT -- thanks for filling in the picture (and apologies to thread for going off topic).

#13 drb

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 05:14 PM

I never liked the quality of her movement -- she lacked lyricism. 

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When I was a "beginner", in the early 70s, Cynthia was The Star at ABT. Her Swan Lake was on a grander scale, with a very dramatic, glamorous, erotic Odile. And she did the 32's (not at all exceptional by today's standards, but special then, when many ballerinas stopped at 16 or 24...or none). She loved to show off her long balances (not always steady, but long and cheers-inducing). Of course, along came lyrical Natasha Makarova, with her "double-jointed" body and wings--wings that were real, and extended from the middle of her back to beyond her fingertips. And from then on Odette-with-a-Russian-Soul defined Swan Lake.
Still, the Gregory/Kivitt partnership had a long and popular run. Nureyev admired her, and the Bolshoi, it was said, offered her a contract, but she chose to take a year off to be a housewife in California instead (more details may be found in Gelsey Kirkland's autobiography). Lucia Chase often programmed Grand Pas Classique for her--it was a sure-fire ticket seller--and I saw the performance with the cigarette. Her recent GPC's had become more-and-more flippant, and I gather that this was her chosen way out of the role. In fact, Lucia never "let" her perform it again. An authentic big star, but greatest American ballerina? There was Suzanne Farrell across the court at Lincoln Center....

#14 Gina Ness

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 08:03 PM

I loved Makarova as Odette/Odile. But I have to say, her 32 fouettes were the worst fouettes of any ballerina I've seen in the role. She had a hard time turning on her own...But, she was so beautiful in every other aspect in this role, I didn't care! And, yes, there have been many great American ballerinas, of which Ms. Gregory is just one...P. S. And, back in the ancient times :excl: every ballerina I saw perform the role executed the required 32 fouettes, gee, sometimes even finishing with a triple...

#15 drb

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Posted 29 August 2005 - 09:19 PM

Here is an appreciation of Ms. Gregory from Dick Andros, a NYC ballet teacher from whom she took class:
"Can you imagine how nervous I was when she took my class the first time? What saved me was the thought I could only be me and if she didn't like it she could leave. I had to wait to see if she would return. Cynthia has taken my class many times since, and I am always in awe of her. She never changes the combination that is given, nor does she ever look down her nose at what is given or said. In my dictionary, Cynthia would be the definition of ballerina."
The full article:
http://michaelminn.n...ory_cynthia.htm


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