• U.S.

Music: Gregory Bows Out

3 minute read

The dance world has been reverberating for some time with tales of unrest and unhappiness at American Ballet Theater, the nation’s premier dance company. American members of A.B.T. felt upstaged and upset by the arrival of Soviet Defectors Natalia Makarova (in 1970) and Mikhail Baryshnikov (in 1974). This fall A.B.T. recruited three more foreign superstars: Stuttgart Ballet’s Marcia Haydée and two Italian artists, Carla Fracci and Paolo Bortoluzzi. Thus nobody quite believed it last week when, on the eve of the opening of the company’s six-week Manhattan season, A.B.T.’s American star Cynthia Gregory abruptly announced her retirement for “personal reasons.”

Star Policy. Cynthia Gregory quitting dance? Rudolf Nureyev has called her America’s prima ballerina assoluta. At 29, she is one of the most admired dancers of the present generation in the U.S.—or anywhere else. Inevitably, many dance enthusiasts wondered whether her sudden exit might be the beginning of a mass exodus that could cripple A.B.T.

Fortunately, that does not seem likely. Gregory has indeed complained about what she (and others) consider to be poor treatment of home-grown talent. She has worried publicly that “Americans don’t appreciate their own.” But lately, Gregory has had little to kick about: A.B.T. mounted a new production of the full-length ballet Raymonda especially for her, gave her contractual rights to choose her roles, and scaled her pay up to levels comparable with those of guest performers, who sometimes get more than $2,000 a night. By all accounts, she really did leave A.B.T. for personal reasons. Upset for months about the breakup of her nine-year marriage to A.B.T. Principal Dancer Terry Orr, and confronted more recently by a new ballet season and a new relationship with another man, Gregory decided to abandon her 14-year career.

There is no doubt, however, that deep dissatisfaction does exist within the A.B.T. ranks. Though it is good box office, the star policy upsets dancers in the corps or soloists who are capable of stepping into bigger parts but never get the chance. Says Principal Dancer Bonnie Mathis, 33: “I’m at a point in my career when I’m dancing my best and need to dance a great deal. But the opportunities are not always there.”

Some of the grumbling could dissipate as Gregory’s roles are divided among those she has left behind. For the moment, however, her colleagues are mainly concerned for her wellbeing. “Maybe she’ll return in six months or a year,” said an A.B.T. spokesman. “Then we’ll have a comeback gala and everyone will have tears in their eyes.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com