• U.S.

Music: Flying High

2 minute read

For a dancer, a pause in mid-career often has the effect of a cool breeze on a warm souffle: poof. But American Ballet Theater’s Cynthia Gregory, rather than wilting during nearly a year’s absence from the stage, has bounced back radiating warmth and vitality.

Gregory retired a year ago at 29 (TIME, Jan. 5, 1976). A shy, painstaking woman, she found the offstage demands of stardom nearly unbearable, especially after her marriage to A.B.T. Dancer Terry Orr collapsed. The dance world was stunned. Gregory is considered the finest American-trained ballet dancer, with a pure, elegant style that makes music and choreography flow together.

This December, Gregory took to her toes tentatively during A.B.T.’s run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. A month later, a very nervous Swanhilda waited in the wings at City Center in Manhattan as the curtain rose on A.B.T.’s opening-night Coppélia. Scarcely had her satin shoes flashed into view, when the first volley of bravos rolled through the theater. The orchestra played on for several bars, then stopped. Gregory, misty-eyed, curtsied for more than two minutes before the show could proceed. In the dance world such a demonstration is rare.

The beautiful sweeping extensions and faultless turns that always marked her dancing were brilliant, but there was, in addition, an increased elevation and a new sense of freedom. In a pas de deaux with Ted Kivitt, she stepped majestically on point, released his hand and poised in an arabesque that lingered on and on, as if there were magnets concealed in her toe shoes.

Gregory spent her sabbatical with John Hemminger, her new husband and manager, in Pacifica Palisades, Calif. Living quietly near the ocean, she swam daily, sketched seascapes and baked cakes. For seven months she took no classes. Injuries from 14 years of non-stop dancing melted away. Ounces, however started to add up to pounds. A sentimental visit to her former ballet teacher, Carmelita Maracci, easily hooked her on dancing again. She credits her husband, a onetime record producer whose circle includes film makers and folk musicians, with opening her horizon. Never again, vows Cynthia, will she permit dance to consume her life. Says she: “I don’t want to spend the whole day and night at the theater.” Audiences will gladly settle for three hours.

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