Cynthia Gregory was one of the great prima ballerinas of the last century. I'd seen her American Ballet Theater performances countless times and the "after image" of her Odette-Odile in Swan Lake is indelible. She was memorable for her long expressive line, her subtle acting, her intelligent interpretations that always seemed to find something new in classic roles. She was the epitome of elegance.
Shortly after I moved to New York City in the late '70s, I went to a movie at an uptown theater. I don't recall the feature, but before it began, this short film of Gregory dancing with Ivan Nagy rolled. It has haunted me ever since, and based on the comments below this YouTube video, which surfaced recently, others had a similar reaction. What do you think?
During those years, my sister Amy and I often attended the summer weekend matinees at Lincoln Center. One afternoon, moments before the first curtain, we grabbed a couple of empty orchestra seats we had spied from our perch in the balcony. Just as the conductor tapped his baton,a voice came over the loudspeaker to announce that Ms. Gregory would not be dancing. "Damn," I said. "You can't plan on anything these days." "Sometimes we have injuries," said the woman seated to my right. I turned. It was Cynthia Gregory, and her ankle was bandaged. I hadn't recognized her in street clothes and without makeup.
On another occasion, my sister and I had a post-performance snack at O'Neal's Balloon, a casual restaurant that faced the State Theater dressing room exit. Just as our drinks arrived, Cynthia Gregory stepped onto the street and into a cab. Her arms were filled with bouquets of lilies. She was wearing a white silky summer dress and a white straw hat with an enormous brim. Was she a vision or a waking dream?