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Katherine HealyWhy did she stop dancing?


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 12:14 PM

Another feather in her cap: Ashton chose her as first cast when his Romeo and Juliet was revived. It's interesting. One could look at her career and think: so much talent unrealized. But then when you really look at her career, you think "Wow, how many dancers get to work with Balanchine, Ashton, skate professionally, do a film with Mary Tyler Moore (and do it well enough to get nominated for a Golden Globe), graduate from Princeton...etc... Not a bad life!



Good points, Dale! She spoke about working with Ashton at an Ashton conference in England several years ago. I did not attend, but published, and read, articles about it, and everyone who mentioned her spoke of her highly -- very intelligent, very poised, had obviously understood the ballet and how Ashton worked.

#17 Jane Simpson

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 12:38 PM

Katherine Healy's paper at the Ashton Conference was a long and invaluable description of how he worked with her before her first performance in his Romeo and Juliet. You can read it in the online version of Following Sir Fred's Steps, the book which contained all the talks and discussions from the conference.

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 12:39 PM

Thank you for posting that, Jane! That article is a wonderful answer to "whatever happened to Kathy Healy?"

#19 bart

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Posted 10 June 2008 - 12:46 PM

Thre's also a link to a brief biio, as of 1994.

#20 cygneblanc

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 01:53 AM

Well, from the videos I saw on youtube, I can tell even if she wasn't a strong jumper, her skating was quite impressive for such a young girl. She really had the full package, a stretch and a posture that reminded me of a young Sasha Cohen.

#21 Helene

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 01:40 PM

In my opinion, she had the same qualities as a skater when she left ballet to skate professionally. Whenever her name is mentioned on figure skating boards -- the same question is asked there -- there are always multiple posts lauding the balletic quality of her skating, her line, her posture, and the finish and polish of her movement.

#22 Helene

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Posted 12 August 2011 - 08:38 AM

On the To dance or not to dance it... thread, in a discussion of Trinidad Sevillano, Simon G wrote:

But what Schaufuss also did was bring in three very very young talented ballerinas and elevated them to principal status in a very baby ballerina Ballets Russes De Monte Carlo manouever. They were Katharine Healy, who could do anything, as long as it was technique, an Australian Susan Hogard who was in the Guillem/Bussell mould and Sevillano.

Healy stayed two years then went back to university, she was probably the most technically accomplished on a level of tricks and indeed she always struck me as far too sensible and intelligent a person to sacrifice her life to ballet.

I'm reading the great figure skater Toller Cranston's book, "Zero Tollerance", and I just came across this passage on Healy:

Katherine Healey's Dilemma
The question was asked whether Katherine Healy would also star in the show ["Ice" at Radio City Music Hall]. She was officially invited, and money seemed no object at all.

Katherine did not have world or Olympic credentials, but she had a uniqueness that holds its own in this century. She was a child prodigy, a ballet dancer, and a skater of renown. She was torn between the two passions. As a result, neither the dance world nor the skating world could truly take her seriously...

Katherine arrived in Lake Placid [where rehearsals were being held]. Although she was neither a Robin Cousins [1980 Men's Olympic Champion] nor Peggy Fleming, some of us -- I can at least speak for myself -- were rather in awe. As a one-of-a-kind property, she made all sorts of stupendous creative demands (that may or may not have been her right) because she was already a star ballerina. She could not -- and it must have been so difficult -- make up her mind either to be part of the unique and historical ice show that was going to devastate the world or to remain aloof because of her pure and integral commitment to dance.*

I believe that it was at a Superskates show that I saw Katherine Healy skate to Don Quixote. To this day I have never seen a performance like it: the quintessential best of dance applied to ice. She became the perfect character in her role. That performance ranks among the most incredible I've ever seen. I felt intimidated and somewhat Phillistine if I compared myself to her.

*According to Healy, who became a prima ballerina with the Vienna State Opera Ballet, she wanted to appear in Ice but was prevented from doing so by Elva Oglanby [not sure if footnotes are by Cranston, his 'with' author Martha Lowder Kimball, or someone in McLelland and Stewart's fact-checking department]


It's interesting that Simon wrote that Healy could do anything technical in ballet, because her competitive skating career was stopped by her jumping technique and ability. By the mid-late 70's, up-and-coming contenders (ex: Fratianne, Biellmann) were already doing full sets of doubles and some of the triples; Healy "wrapped" many of her jumps -- ie, jumped with her leg in a close-to-passe position, as if she were doing a pirouette -- instead of keeping them straight and together. Very few skaters, most notably Midori Ito, arguably the best women's jumper ever, were able to defy the laws of physics and jump triples or the most difficult doubles with a wrap, especially today, where under-rotations are penalized by a technical panel. Even had she not turned pro at 11, it is unlikely she would have been competitive as a amateur.

Here's a clip from 1997, after Healy had left Vienna State Ballet and hadn't skated for seven years, in which she is first interviewed by Roslyn Summers about why she left ballet and then skates to "Don Quixote". I'm not certain this is the same program Cranston saw years earlier, but it's quite beautiful:



By 1997, she had already skated with John Curry, danced with London Festival Ballet, earned an honors degree from Princeton, danced in Monte Carlo for a year and Vienna State Opera Ballet for six. She was 28.

About artistic demands, it's not surprising, since Healy worked with John Curry, who set the bar in the West.

#23 JMcN

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Posted 12 August 2011 - 10:23 AM

Apart from all her other skills she wrote intelligent and extremely articulate articles for the Dance Now magazine. What an enormously talented lady.

#24 dirac

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Posted 12 August 2011 - 10:32 PM

It's interesting that Simon wrote that Healy could do anything technical in ballet, because her competitive skating career was stopped by her jumping technique and ability


She studied ballet longer and more intensely and plainly she was better at it. The skill sets required of ballet dancers and skaters are as different as they are similar so there's not necessarily any paradox.

I remember Cranston's comments. Not entirely flattering.

#25 Helene

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 12:25 AM

Healy studied under and performed with John Curry before she became a professional ballet dancer. Curry demanded as much seriousness and commitment from his skaters as many a great ballet teacher. As a professional, he pared down jumps to the minimum, after performing three types of triples in his 1976 Free Skate. (Four years later, Robin Cousins attempted four triples, including a repeat of the triple toe or triple salchow, but he did not land his triple loop, the most difficult of his triples, which Curry landed with ease, in his Olympic free skate. Curry had excellent difficulty for his time.) He would not have demanded the most difficult jumps of Healy, rather other qualities, like the ability to spin in both directions, superior edge control, and alignment and posture not required by many a skating coach outside school figures.

The irony is that Simon G's characterization of Healy as a dancer was that she was highly technical, but not a great artist, while the criticism of Healy as a skater by many was that she did not have the technique -- by which they meant jumps, because her spirals, spins, and edges were beautiful -- but was considered a great artist on ice.

#26 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 12:56 AM



#27 bart

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 05:14 AM

The irony is that Simon G's characterization of Healy as a dancer was that she was highly technical, but not a great artist, while the criticism of Healy as a skater by many was that she did not have the technique -- by which they meant jumps, because her spirals, spins, and edges were beautiful -- but was considered a great artist on ice.

Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?

#28 Drew

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 10:02 AM


The irony is that Simon G's characterization of Healy as a dancer was that she was highly technical, but not a great artist, while the criticism of Healy as a skater by many was that she did not have the technique -- by which they meant jumps, because her spirals, spins, and edges were beautiful -- but was considered a great artist on ice.

Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?


I appreciate Simon's testimony, but would not be inclined to draw any conclusions about Healy as an artistic skater/technically accomplished dancer. As far as Healy's career at the Festival Ballet goes, "artistry" as a teenager may well still be developing, but--as noted already--Ashton thought highly enough of Healy to choose her for the "first cast" in the re-setting of his Romeo and Juliet--and I have read praise for that performance as Juliet elsewhere. I also once spoke to someone who saw her at a gala (somewhat later in her career) and found the quality of her movement very beautiful.

#29 Helene

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 10:28 AM

Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

In general, the bar for artistry is much lower in skating, which is either a competition, among the top skaters to be won or lost more often by technical difficulty, a gala by competitive skaters, or a professional show, which is almost always commercial. Even fans who adored the intensely creative Silvio Smalun, for example, wouldn't argue that he should have won a major competition. Or Lucinda Ruh, who is the greatest spinner in competitive skating history in her combination of speed, duration, and variety of positions, who couldn't buy a difficult jump. Ruh was lucky to come from Switzerland, where there is generally one significant Ladies' skater per generation and where she had little competition, ensuring her a spot at the major championships each year, and to have come of age when skating was being televised extensively. Otherwise, no one would have known her name. Healy, on the other hand, had she chosen an amateur skating career -- it was "amateur" in those days -- would have faced formidable competition in the US ranks, and her jump limitations would have made her a long-shot at best, even if she didn't have other serious interests and options, like ballet and Princeton. To have turned professional at age 11 means that her skating training was as least as formidable as her dance training -- SAB gets most intense a few years later, when students from outside the NY metro area swell the ranks -- and for Curry to have chosen her meant her basic skating was impeccable, but she had a much greater chance to be a ballet dancer than a competitive skater, based on her technical skills. I would love to say she had the best of both worlds, like Boston Ballet dancer Catherine Foulkes, who skated with Curry as well as dancing, but she always seemed to be torn, going back and forth, and there weren't many options to combine the two.

In the professional ranks, outside the Soviet Union, where there had been a long and deep tradition of ice theater that was serious and state-subsidized, and to an extent in Russia today, where the tradition continues in spite of commercial pressure, commercial meant that Toller Cranston performed in the same show as the baby chimpanzee, for audiences who had come to see the chimpanzee. Scott Hamilton's Stars on Ice was a reaction to this tradition: no one in his show was going to be a chorus person dressed as a fruit or vegetable. However, apart from an occasional skater or team, the number of skating artists in any season is low to none, however great the skating, and Christopher Dean's consistent and exceptional creativity for his shows with Jayne Torvill was an exception in just about every way.

However, there was a magic period of time where John Curry in his amateur career, even within the restrictions and expectations of competitive skating, showed that elusive artistry: his "Don Quixote" Long Program was masterful in the seamless transitions in music and movement, the posture, the glide the characterization, while Robin Cousins, who is an amazing skater, had musical cuts four years later that are un-listenable and his program has little coherence outside the requirements of competitive skating. Curry used the momentum of an Olympic victory to start a professional show to his standards, which were much closer to standards of the Royal Ballet, to which he aspired until his father put the kabosh on ballet lessons, than to Holiday on Ice, with an emphasis on ballet virtues and dance choreography. His performance of Maens' "Afternoon of a Faun" is exquisite; this excerpt is from a documentary about his company's rehearsals, in which the first 40 seconds is of him practicing the first part of Peter Martins' "Tango Tango", after which he speaks about his intentions with the piece:




While he had guest stars in his shows like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill who did not have to be ambidextrous like members of his company, and he had numbers with razzamatazz, just as Balanchine did with "Western Symphony", "Stars and Stripes", and the Wrens from "Union Jack", he was aiming for something much higher to co-exist: the list of choreographers for the programs performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1984 -- several of the greatest performances I've seen in any genre -- includes Lar Lubovich, Eliot Feld, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Peter Martins, Laura Dean, and Twyla Tharp, although I think Maen's and Curry's work is generally superior. Healy wasn't the only ballet-trained or ballet professional in his company: Catherine Foulkes is the beautiful nymph in "Afternoon of a Faun" in the video above.

Curry's venues were different, often, although not exclusively, high-brow, like the Met, compared to Radio City Music Hall, or in smaller arenas, compared to the much larger arenas in Europe and North America. His expectations and standards were higher. Of his company's Met Opera appearances, Jennifer Dunning wrote, "And while the simple, inbeauty of skating was seldom betrayed, this was a dream of dancing." Anna Kisselgoff wrote:

But it was Mr. Curry's own tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton, England's great choreographer, that the audience cheered most.

That audience, judging from overheard remarks, seemed divided into those familiar with Mr. Curry's attempt to fuse a high level of dance choreography with skating and those who were taken by surprise. The latter expect the usual flashy ice show, but when confronted with Mr. Curry's gentler, more esthetic bias, are just as delighted by a new kind of skating.


Healy was mentored by Curry and met his expectations. By today's standards, Healy, Yu Na Kim, the reigning Olympic champion, and Mao Asada, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, would be considered "artists"; by Curry's standards, only Healy would have been the perfectly baked Parisian baguette.


Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?

It depends on whom you are asking: to the average figure skating fan, the word "artist" would be applied to a wide range of skaters who s/he finds interesting. To the average ballet fan, there are plenty of dancers with flash and technique s/he would call "ballerina". Which ties to the topic raised in the NYT about technical virtuosity among pianists, which Mme Hermine posted here.

For me, Healy was one of the few female solo artists on ice. Janet Lynn was another. Today I think that Laura Lepisto comes closest, because of her beautiful edges and musicality. There were more among the female ice dancers, like Maia Usova and Marina Klimova. There are more among the men, but I think that's because they don't have to fit the "ice princess" mold.

#30 Simon G

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 11:25 AM

I appreciate Simon's testimony, but would not be inclined to draw any conclusions about Healy as an artistic skater/technically accomplished dancer. As far as Healy's career at the Festival Ballet goes, "artistry" as a teenager may well still be developing, but--as noted already--Ashton thought highly enough of Healy to choose her for the "first cast" in the re-setting of his Romeo and Juliet--and I have read praise for that performance as Juliet elsewhere. I also once spoke to someone who saw her at a gala (somewhat later in her career) and found the quality of her movement very beautiful.



Drew,

I'm sorry you feel that I was denigrating Healy as a dancer, the fact is she was very very young at LFB & only stayed there a very short time before deciding to give up dance and return to college.

Schaufuss went on record as saying that when he took the helm of LFB now ENB the company was cash strapped and he didn't have the money to hire stars, so he decided to create a furore of his own with very young prodigies. Healy & Sevillano being 16 & 15 respectively when he took them into the company and elevated them to principal status. Of the two Healy was the ostensible "perfect ballerina body type" she was also a phenomenal virtuoso and was given roles which showcased those abilities. Ashton did indeed choose her over the experienced ballerinas to be his first cast for R&J, though it's also worth noting that not long after that career-defining experience she decided to quit dance to return to college.

If you look at videos of Healy from that time the stunts she was pulling off are incredible, but for whatever reason she decided to call time on her career at precisely the point when technical virtuosity was deepening into artistic ability and developing her voice as an artist - like I said she strikes me as being a very intelligent woman and therefore it's probably not surprising that she decided to explore her intellectual life away from the ballet world. When she did decide to go back to ballet at Vienna, it would seem that her moment for stardom in ballet had passed, whether she would have gone on to capitalise on her R&J success and her position at LFB is moot, we'll never know.

Nor was I intending to compare her to Sevillano & Susan Hogard, the other very young ballerina pushed by Schaufuss; they were all such very different dancers with different strengths and weaknesses, to compare is invidious. But the fact remains that it was Sevillano who proved the one who people connected with and who people came to see, who was given guesting roles and opportunities outside of her mother company and was the one the press, critics, audiences and ballet world decided was the one destined for stardom.

When Sevillano left ENB Schaufuss decided to push Hogard in earnest but even though he then gave her every opportunity that Sevillano & Healy had, including using her to guest at the Kirov, she never took off nor was accepted as a legitimate ballerina.


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