PERSONAL: Married Gelsey Kirkland (a dancer; divorced).
CAREER: Writer and journalist.
(With Gelsey Kirkland) Dancing on My Grave, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1986.
(With Gelsey Kirkland) The Shape of Love, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1990.
(With Gelsey Kirkland) The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1993.
Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2001.
(With John Kander and Fred Ebb) Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz, Faber and Faber (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Greg Lawrence met Gelsey Kirkland in the early 1980s, when Kirkland, a prima ballerina for the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, was hitting a career low due to cocaine abuse. The two fell in love and Kirkland began to pull herself into recovery. In 1986 Lawrence and Kirkland coauthored Dancing on My Grave, Kirkland's tell-all autobiography about her life in professional dance.
Dancing on My Grave details Kirkland's rise to fame, her tumultuous relationship with choreographer and New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine, the plastic surgery brought on by low self-image, and her eventual descent into addiction. The book was a sensation upon publication due not only to Kirkland's frank description of her fall, but also because she named names and placed the blame for her problems on Balanchine and former partners/lovers, such as Mikhail Baryshinikov. New Republic reviewer Eva Resnikova was highly unresponsive to Kirkland's story, noting that the "problem lies in the heroine herself, who emerges as a distinctly antipathetic character—self-centered, narcissistic, pompous." Kirkland's "overwhelming personal problems and blinding fanaticism obscure some real issues in ballet that deserve to be addressed seriously," Resnikova added. Jacqueline Coleman, writing in the National Review, also found Dancing on My Grave to be full of "the raw material of self-psychoanalysis, largely devoid of true insight," calling it "an embarrassingly intimate piece of self-indulgent mud-slinging." Coleman did add that the book's peak behind the curtain of American ballet does give it "some higher value, but balletomanes will also be fascinated by its rare, vile views from backstage."
After marrying in the mid-1980s, Lawrence and Kirkland set out to chronicle their new love and Kirkland's return to the stage in a follow-up memoir. The Shape of Love saw a drug-free Kirkland attempting a ballet comeback in London, England, in 1986. Described by New York Times Book Review critic Alastair Macaulay as a "strained account, written in retirement," this book focuses more on Kirkland's attitudes toward the process of dance itself than the scandals off stage. A Publishers Weekly reviewer declared, "The power of Kirkland's obsession is difficult to resist" because she "still has plenty to say—and says it memorably." In Library Journal Joan Stahl agreed, writing: "Kirkland is a survivor who doesn't hesitate to express her opinions." Joanne Kaufman, in People, felt that while "One can't help but admire Kirkland's struggles, passion and guts … frequently her writing has the tang of melodrama."
Lawrence and Kirkland's next collaboration was the children's book The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse, about a young girl who must choose between her love of dancing and her love of horse riding. A Publishers Weekly critic was not impressed, "With this cotton-candy offering, Kirkland and Lawrence badly underestimate their readers' intelligence." April L. Judge of the School Library Journal was a bit more forgiving, stating that "The book is smoothly written and … does include a great deal of information about the world of ballet."
In 2001 Lawrence published Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins, the first biography about the influential American choreographer known for choreographing Broadway hits such as On the Town, The King and I, and West Side Story. Filled with interviews with Jerome Robbins's colleagues, friends, family, admirers, and detractors, the book delves into the creator's struggles with his Jewish background, his homosexuality, his dark temperament, and the political entanglements that led him to name names for the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953. Jennifer Homans, in the New Republic, expressed disappointment in Lawrence's sloppy presentation, feeling that while "he accumulated an impressive number of opinions and anecdotes from a wide rage of people … he simply dumps the interviews into his book, leaving the reader with a heap of conflicting stories, many of which undermine Lawrence's own assertions about Robbins' life." An Economist critic agreed, writing that "Lawrence's method is anecdotal, chronological, meticulous… Yet a clear overall picture never really emerges, and the ballets themselves get lost in the painstaking narrative." However, a Kirkus Reviews contributor considered Dances with Demons a "first-rate biography" that offers a "trove of fascinating, exhaustive information," and is "essential for anyone interested in 20th-century dance and pop culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2001, Jack Helbig, review of Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins, p. 1655.
Economist, June 30, 2001, review of Dance with Demons, p. 9.
International Herald Tribune, August 3, 2001, review of Dance with Demons.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2001, review of Dance with Demons, p. 386.
Library Journal, September 1, 1990, Joan Stahl, review of The Shape of Love, p. 222; May 1, 2001, Barbara Kundanis, review of Dance with Demons, p. 86;
National Review, March 27, 1987, Jacqueline Coleman, review of Dancing on My Grave, p. 60.
New Republic, November 24, 1986, Eva Resnikova, review of Dancing on My Grave, pp. 48-50; July 9, 2001, Jennifer Homans, "Fiddler on the Hoof," review of Dance with Demons, p. 44.
New York Review of Books, March 31, 1988, Robert Craft, "Balanchine's Steps," pp. 19-22.
New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1990, Alastair Macaulay, "Always on Stage," review of The Shape of Love, pp. 3, 39.
People, January 12, 1987, Lee Aitken, review of Dancing on My Grave, p. 15; October 1, 1990, Joanne Kaufman, review of The Shape of Love, pp. 37-38.
Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1990, Genevieve Suttaford, review of The Shape of Love, p. 31; November 15, 1993, review of The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse, p. 79; April 30, 2001, review of Dance with Demons, p. 65;
School Library Journal, April, 1991, Diana C. Hirsch, review of The Shape of Love, pp. 156-157; February, 1994, April L. Judge, review of The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse, pp. 102-103.
Variety, June 25, 2001, Wendy Smith, review of Dance with Demons, p. 28.
Houston Chronicle Online, http://www.houstonchronicle.com/ (August 22, 2001), Molly Glentzer, "Dancing with, Never Finding, Robbins' Demons."