Cynthia Gregory has been called many things during her dancing career: the Swan Queen, a luminary, a controversial artist and, as Rudolf Nureyev once referred to her, “America’s prima ballerina assoluta.”
But she’d best be described as benevolently critical as she rattles off advice for Nevada Ballet Theatre dancers during a rehearsal for The Nutcracker: “Think up, rather than out in that jete. You lose your head in that arabesque. I’d like to see the little steps littler and the big steps bigger. Don’t put too much weight on either foot. Lighter. Completely lighter.”
Dancers stop to catch their breath, then work the steps over and over. That’s why Gregory is here. For the little things, the tweaks, the perfection.
“I was very lucky to work with the greatest choreographers of the 20th century,” she says after rehearsal. “Agnes de Mille. Balanchine. And I had wonderful coaches. So I like to pass on what they gave me and I need to do that. I feel compelled to do that, to give the dancers what I learned from all of these great people.”
- The Nutcracker
- Presented by the Nevada Ballet Theatre
- Dec. 23, 7 p.m.
- Dec. 24 & 26, 1 p.m.
- Paris Las Vegas
Gregory has danced professionally since age 15 and spent 26 years with American Ballet Theatre, including the high-profile and sometimes stormy era of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Since retiring from the company in 1991, she has staged, coached and served as a guest artist with companies throughout the U.S., and been board chair for Career Transitions for Dancers, which helps retiring performers find new careers.
Now in her 60s, she settled in Las Vegas a little over a year ago, then joined the Nevada Ballet team and has been establishing the Cynthia Gregory Center for Coaching at NBT.
Getting Gregory onboard as an artistic adviser has been a masterstroke and another step forward for the 37-year-old Las Vegas company, which has been revamped in the past two years and is progressing artistically and organizationally toward its upcoming Smith Center residency.
Artistic Director James Canfield says he’s thrilled about Gregory’s involvement and the opportunity for her to share her experience and artistic and technical depth. “Ballet is an art form that is passed down from generation to generation, and even in this technological world we live in, no video or film will ever replace the personal experience and inspiration that Cynthia brings to the studio,” he says. “She is an American treasure.”
Gregory says she considers Canfield—a classically trained artist with a cutting-edge drive—an important part of the evolution of dance: “edgy, but based in classical.”
The Los Angeles native who settled in Connecticut says she’s always dreamed about returning to the West. As a child, she spent time in Las Vegas.
Now divorced with a son in college, she says, “I had nothing holding me back. I’m so happy to be around palm trees, big sky and mountains. I’m feeling that a whole new life is opening up for me here. Everything is fresh and sun-filled.”