The American Ballet Theatre confirmed today that it has decided "at this time" not to reengage superstar ballerina Gelsey Kirkland and leading dancer Patrick Bissell.
The ballet company issued a statement attributing the decision to "a variety of complex reasons." An ABT spokesman declined to discuss these reasons, saying, "They're just too complex to go into. That is between the dancers and the company."
ABT also said Bissell, 23, had not signed a contract for the current season and "has requested and is currently on a leave of absence."
Sources close to Bissell, however, said he denied requesting the leave. One source said, "They're just not taking him back."
On Aug. 18 Bissell said he had signed a contract with ABT for this season and that he would sue ABT if the contract was breached.
But officials of Dube Zakin Management, which represents Bissell, said today they know of no contract that had been signed.
Bissell was on his way to an airport for a flight to Manila this afternoon and could not be reached for comment. Kirkland was also unavailable.
ABT said there are no plans to hire dancers to replace Kirkland and Bissell and that the loss of the stars will not handicap the company in its cross-country tour.
The ballet company's spokesman also said further negotiations between ABT, Kirkland and Bissell were anticipated "and we are looking forward to having the dancers with us sometime in the future, if and when we can reach a mutual agreement."
Kirkland, 28, in an interview several weeks ago, said an ABT official had persuaded her to return to the company this season but that when she approached ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov to discuss artistic matters, he told her, "I'm not sure I want you back. I don't trust you' " to be reliable. Kirkland said Baryshnikov told her she would have to prove herself to his satisfaction.
Kirkland had not missed any performances since rejoining ABT last spring. She had been fired for alleged unreliability on the eve of the company's Washington season last December.
ABT sources claimed she had missed several rehearsals since her return and had altered, on her own, her approach to a role in "Les Rendezvous," a ballet she danced in New York -- an alteration that reportedly infuriated Baryshnikov.
Her outspoken comments about Baryshnikov's insensitivity to her artistic needs, made just before she was rehired last season, are also said to have angered Baryshnikov.
Soon after her comments were published in The Washington Post, sources close to the ABT artistic director suggested that Kirkland's public criticism of her boss might be considered in future ABT assessments of the ballerina.
Kirkland is considered by many dance experts to be the finest American-born ballerina of our time, having achieved stardom with both the New York City Ballet and ABT.
Bissell has also criticized the artistic direction of ABT, and told friends he intends to work within the company to reform ABT's artistic practices. Recently, he questioned whether Baryshnikov could devote sufficient attention to performing, supervising the other dancers and directing ABT's course at the same time.
Bissell's outspokenness has also inflamed some ABT supporters.
However, Bissell said his public posture toward Baryshnikov was one of respect, that he followed Baryshnikov's orders and dealt with disagreements in private.
In the past, both Bissell and Baryshnikov reportedly had a romantic interest in Kirkland. The two male dancers are also known to have had frequent artistic disputes during rehearsals and ballet classes.
Bissell's mother, Patricia Bissell, who visited her son in Manhattan last weekend, said in a telephone interview that her son had become depressed by what she termed his dismissal by ABT over the weekend.
She expressed dismay over what she learned about the behavior of some members of the ballet community in Manhattan, including debauchery and the use of cocaine, and said she feared that this environment posed a dangerous threat to her son's well-being.
She said the social conduct by some dancers in Manhattan was making ballet "an art form that is coming out of a sewer."
In a recent interview, her son did not deny that he has been exposed to the drug environment.
But last month he said he had managed to overcome such influences because he felt that behavior of this kind would destroy his career, and possibly his life.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Fernando Bujones said that although Bujones has rejoined ABT this season, the dancer will not appear with the company during its Washington run.