Gelsey Kirkland

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Gelsey Kirkland
Gelsey Kirkland

(1952-12-29) December 29, 1952 (age 67)
Spouse(s)Greg Lawrence (div.)
Michael Chernov
Parent(s)Jack Kirkland

Gelsey Kirkland (born December 29, 1952) is an American ballerina. Kirkland joined the New York City Ballet in 1968 at age 15, at the invitation of George Balanchine. She was promoted to soloist in 1969, and principal in 1972. She went on to create leading roles in many of the great twentieth century ballets by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor, including Balanchine's revival of The Firebird, Robbins' Goldberg Variations, and Tudor's The Leaves are Fading. Balanchine re-choreographed his version of Stravinsky's The Firebird specifically for her.[1] She left the New York City Ballet to join the American Ballet Theatre in 1974.

She is perhaps most famous to the general public for dancing the role of Clara Stahlbaum in Baryshnikov's 1977 televised production of The Nutcracker. She left the American Ballet Theatre in 1984.

Personal life[edit]

Kirkland was born December 29, 1952, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.[2] Her father, Jack Kirkland, was a playwright who penned the Broadway adaptations of Tobacco Road and Tortilla Flat.[3][4] Her mother Nancy Hoardley, was an actress. Her older sister, Johnna, also studied at the School of American Ballet and danced with the New York City Ballet, but was fired from the company for allegedly using drugs.[5] She went on to dance with the Los Angeles Ballet, which she helped to co-found. Johnna retired after she broke her foot and the company stopped paying the dancers. She now makes and sells artisan place and floor mats.

Kirkland currently lives in New York, with her second husband, dancer, choreographer, and teacher Michael Chernov, who was also with ABT. In 2006, she was awarded the Dance Magazine Award.


Kirkland choreographed (with Chernov and ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie) a new production of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, in which, after a more than 20 years absence from the stage, she danced the role of "Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy". In 2010, Kirkland and Chernov established the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet (GKACB), where they serve as co-Artistic Directors.[6] The Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet is now accompanied by the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet company. The ballet company presents classical ballets in New York City.[7]

Kirkland was featured on the May 1, 1978, cover of Time.[8]

She was repeatedly fired and re-hired by the American Ballet Theatre for drug abuse and erratic behavior. It was her partner Patrick Bissell who introduced her to cocaine, which the two did together. Kirkland said many of the dancers in the company were doing all kinds of drugs to cope with the pressures of dancing. She became a prima ballerina.


In 1986, Kirkland, along with her then husband Greg Lawrence, published Dancing on My Grave, a memoir chronicling her artistic transformation from George Balanchine's "baby ballerina" to one of the more acclaimed ballerinas in her generation. The book described in detail her struggles with her domestic family problems, sibling rivalry, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgeries, drug addiction, her quest for artistic perfection, and her complicated love affairs with Mikhail Baryshnikov and numerous other men, most of whom she encountered in the ballet world. Dancing on My Grave was dedicated to Joseph Duell, a dancer with the New York City Ballet who committed suicide in 1986, in hopes "that the cry for help might yet be heard".

Her second autobiography, published in 1990, titled The Shape of Love, dealt with her move to England to dance with the Royal Ballet, her attempts to get a fresh start with her first husband, and her return to American Ballet Theatre with a clean slate and a renewed outlook on life.

She and her husband eventually collaborated again on a children's book titled The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse in 1993, about a little girl who loves ballet and may not be able to keep dancing if she keeps riding her horse Sugar.


  1. ^ Paul Gray (May 1, 1978). "Dance: U.S. Ballet Soars". Time. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  2. ^ Rodger, Liam; Bakewell, Joan (2011). Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Ninth ed.). London, UK: Chambers Harrap. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  3. ^ "Jack Kirkland". IBDB.
  4. ^ Christiansen, Richard (October 5, 1986). "Gelsey Kirkland's Life With Drugs, And Baryshnikov". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Paul Gray (May 1, 1978). "Dance: U.S. Ballet Soars". Time.
  6. ^ "Faculty". Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet.
  7. ^ "Home". Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  8. ^ "Cover". Time. May 1, 1978.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]