March 18, Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building, Civic
Center, San Francisco.
This interview with video clips is part of an ongoing series produced by Deborah Dubowy which usually pairs a locally-based dancer with a noted dance guest. We have had Martine Van Hamel interviewed by Kristine Elliott, friends from their days together in American Ballet Theatre; Helgi Tomasson talking with Violette Verdy; Evelyn Cisneros interviewing Maria Tallchief, and such like.
One of my dominant impressions is that some benevolent soul should provide public speaking coaching for dancers. Ideally speaking, the on stage aura should be reflected when words come forth as well, and the performance in speech should reflect a certain level of comfort. These events are carefully planned, both in terms of comments and clips and progression of material. Cynthia Gregory came across verbally as rather uncomfortable. To hide her nervousness she giggled and frequently a verbal cliche supposed to convey something, but informed the audience only that slang phrases were being used.
One of the most instructive comments she made was that she was a performance-oriented dancer, rather than a classroom dancer and she hated taking class. She also remarked that she enjoyed herself on stage from the beginning took the stage on her own terms. This was evident early in her brief career with San Francisco Ballet where she came on a Ford Foundation Scholarship because her parents felt New York City was too far from home. The other factor operating was the cooperation and support of both parents for an only child, a situations great for someone concentrating on a performing career; no impediments.
There were some interesting reactions about her initial desire to join American Ballet Theatre when her then husband Terrence Orr, now Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was chosen, and she was not. They had both decided they wanted to join the same company. Gregory was hired two weeks later when someone dropped out.
Her first period with ABT was one of steady involvement to the point where she resigned from burn out at the time of her divorce
from Orr. When she returned, she was able to limit her appearances and bring more to each performance.
Gregory had great praise for all her partners, and she certainly danced with all the great ones who appeared with ABT. She also had the distinction of being asked to dance with Erik Bruhn by Bruhn himself and the film clip of Miss Julie was quite exciting.
Joanna Berman also had a number of her clips shown - from Rodeo to Gala Performance to Kudelka. She recalled the effects of
Gregory's performances on the students at Marin Ballet. Many of them continued on to substantial careers (Lauren Jonas of Diablo Ballet as a for instance). It was clear Gregory has been an inspiration for them.
One of the most charming instances of Gregory's independence was her method of getting rid of dancing in Gvosky's Grand Pas Classique. After flirting around with the idea of smoking during
a particular variation and discussing it with Enrique Martinez in rehearsal, down to the part where she could snuff out the cigarette, Gregory proceeded to instruct her dresser to have a lighted cigarette in the wings. She utilized the cigarette as discussed and the audience went wild. The next day Lucia Chase called her up and said, "You'll never dance that pas de deux with us again." Mission accomplished!
The audience was near capacity and very much in the "local girl made good" mood. For all my criticism of verbal delivery, it was a pleasant occasion.