Gelsey Kirkland (born December 29, 1952) is an American ballerina. Kirkland joined the New York City Ballet in 1968 at age fifteen, 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. She left the New York City Ballet to join the American Ballet Theatre in 1974.
In 1986, Kirkland, along with her then husband Greg Lawrence, published Dancing On My Grave, an explosive memoir chronicling her artistic transformation from George Balanchine's "baby ballerina" to one of the most acclaimed ballerinas in her generation. The book described in startling detail her struggles with her domestic family problems, anorexia, bulimia, laundry list of plastic surgeries, drug addiction, her quest for artistic perfection, and her complicated love affairs with ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov and numerous other men, most of whom she encountered in the ballet world.
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.
After these two intensely graphic autobiographies, she and her husband/co-writer collaborated on one more book—a children's book called The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse in 1993.
She currently lives in New York, with her second husband, danseur, choreographer and teacher Michael Chernov, who was also with ABT. In 2006, she was awarded the Dance Magazine Award. They used to live in Australia.
She has recently choreographed (with Chernov and ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie) a new production of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, in which, after a more than twenty years absence from the stage, she danced the role of "Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy". In 2010, Ms. Kirkland and Mr Chernov established the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet (GKACB), where they serve as co-Artistic Directors. 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.
Kirkland was born December 29, 1952, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her father, Jack Kirkland, was a playwright who penned the Broadway adaptations of Tobacco Road and Tortilla Flat. Her older sister, Joanna, 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. She went on to dance with the Los Angeles Ballet, which she helped to co-found. Joanna retired after she broke her foot and the company stopped paying the dancers. She now makes and sells artisan place and floor mats.
- Paul Gray (May 1, 1978). "Dance: U.S. Ballet Soars". Time. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
- "Faculty". Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet.
- "Home". Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
- Rodger, Liam; Bakewell, Joan (2011). Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Ninth ed.). London, UK: Chambers Harrap. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
- "Jack Kirkland". IBDB.
- Christiansen, Richard (October 5, 1986). "Gelsey Kirkland's Life With Drugs, And Baryshnikov". tribunedigital-chicagotribune. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
- Paul Gray (May 1, 1978). "Dance: U.S. Ballet Soars". Time.
- "Cover". Time. May 1, 1978.
- Kirkland, Gelsey, and Greg Lawrence. Dancing on My Grave. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1986 (ISBN 0-385-19964-3).
- Kirkland, Gelsey, and Greg Lawrence. The Shape of Love: The Story of Dancing on My Grave Continues. New York, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1990 (ISBN 0-385-24918-7).