Gregory, Cynthia (1946—)

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Gregory, Cynthia (1946—)

American ballerina. Born Cynthia Kathleen Gregory on July 8, 1946, in Los Angeles, California; only child of Konstantin Gregory (a dress manufacturer) and Marcelle (Tremblay) Gregory; attended Catholic schools until 1961; later received high school diploma through a correspondence course; married Terrence S. Orr (a dancer), on May 14, 1966 (divorced 1975); married John Hemminger (a rock-music manager and promoter), in 1976 (died 1984); married Hilary B. Miller (an investment banker), in December 1985: children: a stepdaughter, Amanda Hemminger, and a son, Lloyd Miller.

Acclaimed for her technical virtuosity and dramatic appeal, Cynthia Gregory gained international stardom as a principal dancer with New York's American Ballet Theater (ABT), where she was best known for her individualized interpretations of the leading roles in classical ballets, particularly Swan Lake. Mikhail Baryshnikov, one time artistic director and dancer with the prestigious company, called Gregory one of the great dancers in the ABT's history. "The range of her repertory and brilliance of her dancing have been a standard for many."

Gregory was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1946, and began ballet lessons at age five with Eva Lorraine at the California Children's Ballet Company. Within a year, she was dancing on point in children's versions of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. Her training continued in classes with Michel Panaieff, Robert Rossellat, and Carmelita Maracci , to whom she credits her technical ability. "She would give you very technical things to do," Gregory told John Gruen in an interview for his book, The Private World of Ballet. "I did them all, but I never understood how I did them. Actually, I still don't understand. I do things naturally, without knowing how I do them." At 13, Gregory took special classes with Jacques D'Amboise, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Impressed with her ability, he recommended her to Lew Christensen, the head of the San Francisco Ballet School. Christensen, in turn, offered her a Ford Foundation grant, and Gregory enrolled in the San Francisco Ballet School and danced as an apprentice with the company's corps de ballet. In late 1961, she became an official member of the company, dancing her first solo in The Nutcracker. Promoted to soloist within a few months, she spent the next two years expanding her repertory of classical roles as well as branching out into more experimental works.

Looking for more challenges than the small regional company could offer, Gregory and a fellow dancer, Terry Orr (whom she married in 1966), moved to New York City, where they hoped to join George Balanchine's New York City Ballet. However, after attending a number of performances of the American Ballet Theater, they decided to audition there instead. Although Orr was immediately taken into the company, Gregory had to audition three times before being accepted, because the directors were worried that at 6′1" on point, she might not fit in with the rest of the corps. Gregory was elevated to soloist in 1966 and, nine months later, became a principal dancer. In 1967, she first appeared as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the ballet with which she would come to be identified. Alternating in the role with more experienced dancers, Gregory completely mesmerized the critics. "Already she dances Odette/Odile as if she had the accumulated tradition of a young Russian or British dancer behind her," wrote Clive Barnes of The New York Times (May 24, 1967). "She dances as if she had dreamed of the ballet from her cradle." Walter Terry, in the Saturday Review (June 3, 1967) also recognized Gregory's innate talent. "She had… that ballet 'line,' that definition of the body in space, which distinguished a ballerina from a mere dancer. No one could have taught it to her. It was instinctive, this placement of arms, this extension of the legs, this tilt of the head."

Through the mid-1970s, Gregory continued to distinguish herself in the classical interpretations as well as modern dramatic roles in works like Antony Tudor's Undertow, Birgit Cullberg 's Miss Julie, and Eliot Feld's Intermezzo. In December 1975, suffering through a painful divorce and disagreements with ABT's management, Gregory quite suddenly announced her retirement and moved to California with rock-music promoter John Hemminger to live a "normal" life. (The couple married in 1976.) After a year, however, she became bored and returned to ABT on a limited schedule. "Before I quit I had just been killing myself, working so hard I wasn't enjoying it," she told Joe Butkiewicz of the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Times Leader. "When I came back I decided I would only perform three times a week. Every performance would be special."

New York fans greeted her with a standing ovation when she made her first entrance as Swanilda in Coppélia on January 5, 1977, and, despite her ten-month absence, critics found her in splendid form. "She radiates joy as she never has," reported Frances Herridge in the New York Post (January 6, 1977). "She spins into her turns with free leg extended exceptionally high. She held her balances longer than necessary.… We are accustomed to technical perfection from her, but this technical daring made her even more exciting." Once again, Gregory reigned as one of the most popular dancers in the company, rivaling even the Soviet dancers who were favored at the time by artistic director Lucia Chase . Gregory often used her box-office draw as leverage in management disputes. In 1977, she quit in protest over their refusal to hire a Rumanian dancer as her partner, and in 1979, she left again during an impasse over salary negotiations. That same year, Chase retired and Mikhail Baryshnikov took over as artistic director of the ABT. Because of his preference for experimental works over the classics, Gregory's performance schedule was further cut, and she used the opportunity to perform as a guest artist with other companies, among them the Stuttgart Ballet and the state opera ballets of Zurich, Vienna, and Munich.

In June 1985, the ABT mounted a gala performance to celebrate Gregory's 20 years with the company. In an evening dedicated to her husband John Hemminger, who died of a heart attack in 1984, Gregory was seen in slides of her childhood and excepts from 20 of the 70 ballets in which she had danced over the years. Looking back at her career with the company, Gregory told Gruen in an interview for Dance magazine, "maturing with ABT was a fabulous experience. Although there were some rough spots along the way, it's really been my whole life."

In 1985, Gregory married Hilary Miller, an investment banker with a daughter of his own, Amanda. A year later, despite a foot operation, a hip injury, and recurring tendinitis, Gregory signed a two-year contract as a permanent guest artist with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet. She subsequently organized and toured 32 cities with her own troupe of nine dancers in "Cynthia Gregory: A Celebration of Twenty-Five Years of Dancing," a show to benefit drug-abuse programs. She also appeared in a television commercial and published a book Ballet is the Best Exercise, geared toward the non-dancer. In 1988, the dancer gave birth to a son, Lloyd, and three months later was back on stage in Romeo and Juliet. "I'd love to do videos, or try my hand at acting," she said in an interview with the Nashville Banner. "I'd like to go to art school and learn to draw. I'd like to write a book other than an exercise book. I want to still be as creative as I can and keep learning."


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Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1977. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1977.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Gregory, Cynthia (1946—)

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