Ballerina Gelsey Kirkland refused to dance last night at a special performance she was to give with dancer Patrick Bissell at Goucher College. pThe two of them were to appear as guest artists with the Tidewater Ballet of Norfolk, Va., in a program produced by James S. Gentzler. Kirkland and Bissell were dismissed as principal dancers with American Ballet Theatre this past December and have been making a few guest appearances together since then.
Bissell did actually perform "Swan Lake" Act II with 17-year-old Christye Herrin of the Tidewater troop who stood in for Kirkland at the last minute.
After the audience of about 1,000 -- the house was sold but -- had sat somewhat restlessly for close to an hour waiting for the program to begin, an announcement was made over a loudspeaker that because of transportation problems and late arrivals the order of the program was to be changed. Then the Tidewater dancers performed excerpts from "Raymonda" and an intermission followed.
During the intermission rumors were already afloat that Kirkland might not be appearing. By 9:40 (the performance had originally been scheduled to begin at 7:30), the audience again having turned noisy and restless, a second announcement informed the house that "Miss Kirkland has refused to perform." There was loud booing and dozens of people got up to leave. The announcer also said that Bissell had agreed to dance "Swan Lake" with Herrin and asked the audience for its indulgence in a situation "totally beyond our control."
Bissell and Herrin were given a prolonged standing ovation at the conclusion of their "Swan Lake" performance. After a further delay, Bissell returned to dance the male variation from the Don Quixote" pas de deux that he was originally to have danced with Kirkland.
An altercation at the box office during one intermission involving some angry patrons demanding a refund caused the police to be called in. The officers apparently succeeded in calming the situation. Baskstage after the performance Bissell said, "I've never canceled a performance and I wasn't about to cancel this one, so I danced with . . . I don't even know her name, no one's introduced us." Of Kirkland's behavior, he said, "I was totally shocked tonight. I was very upset, not with her but for her." "
James Gentzler, the producer, who had tried to discover the source of Kirkland's recalcitrance, said, "She just told me, 'I can't deal with this tonight, I can't cope with it -- I just don't feel like dancing.'"