As a ballerina, Gelsey Kirkland was not only celebrated for her technical virtuosity, wild abandon and superb musical phrasing, she also distinguished herself with profound dramatic ability. Now, she wants to train future generations to do the same.
The new Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet (GKACB), located in the heart of New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, will train dancers from 10 years old to young adults, and offer choreographic residencies to professionals and a comprehensive teacher-training program.
At the GKACB, the mission is storytelling. “Most schools today are dealing mainly with technique,” says Misha Chernov, Kirkland’s co-director and partner. “So when you go to the ballet, there are amazing things happening onstage, but you the audience find yourself removed from them.”
“Technically amazing,” adds Kirkland, “but we believe that the other skills in the theater—pantomime and acting—are what’s required to bring technique to life.”
To that end, in addition to studying classical ballet technique, partnering and Kirkland’s unique system of body conditioning, dancers enrolled in the GKACB will study literature, painting, sculpture, acting, mime and more.
Kirkland was relentless when it came to developing full-bodied characters and emotion onstage and therefore has so much knowledge to share. “You have to be able to discern what’s an intelligent dramatic choice, what’s an effective dramatic choice, and then how to speak with the body,” she says. “It takes many years of education. Ways that I feel are ignored at the moment.”
As a student and then a ballerina with New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Ballet, Kirkland worked closely with many notable coaches and teachers, some of whom were influential when considering the framework of her syllabus, which is based on traditional Russian, French, Danish and Italian techniques. “I had Danish training from Stanley Williams, Cecchetti from Maggie Black, kinesthetic principles from David Howard,” says Kirkland, who also delved deep into acting and mime with Pilar Garcia. “And none of these teachers could ever be pegged. It was always a journey of learning. So that’s the spirit.”
Kirkland is using the Vaganova system to bring order and organization to her academy. Vaganova’s method of teaching, when used well, is not an external style or look. It’s a set of rules that helps build technique and coordination. “When you’re sitting in the theater, you shouldn’t feel that you’re looking at a school. You should feel the power of the artist,” Kirkland says.
GKACB’s teacher-training program will be conducted by David Howard, Nina Osipyan, Robert Ray and Kirkland, herself. It can be completed as a one-year course or in modules. Along with classical ballet theory and principles, it will include training in GKACB’s system of Core Dynamics, which addresses core strength and coordination of upper- and lower-body elements, musical training for teaching ballet, introduction to drama and mime training and the opportunity to practice and further develop teaching skills by working with current GKACB students. Graduates will be recognized as certified teachers in the GKACB syllabus.
Although GKACB debuted this past summer with a three-week intensive, this fall marks the inception of the year-round program.
For more information, visit gelseykirklandballet.org.
Photo by Martha Swope, courtesy of Dance Magazine archives.