Studio 696

Home » Blogs » Conversations with Brooke : Cynthia Harvey

Conversations with Brooke : Cynthia Harvey

It is an honour to chat with my long-time mentor and much-loved artist Cynthia Harvey. Former Ballerina with The American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Ballet. Former Artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. A much-loved icon of dance, performing with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov and wowing audiences on and off the stage for decades. Enjoy her words of wisdom and insights into the world of dance.

Tell us about what got you into ballet and your early training? How important is early training in your opinion and what is your first memory of ballet?

The desire to dance, ballet especially, came from me. I had seen Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev on television and fell in love right there and then. Pestering my mother for several years until she allowed me to go to a summer community dance class.

Early training is of huge importance. An introduction to dance helps little ones with life skills such as cognitive development, learning patience, understanding rhythm, discipline, spatial awareness, and team playing. Even if one does not end up as a professional dancer, those things can be useful in whatever any profession

You have had an incredibly illustrious career and still stand as one of the greats. What are some of your career highlights?

Given the opportunity to dance my first full-length ballet with Sir Anthony Dowell. Being given the role of Gamzatti in Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadere, with a solo created for her act III-I was the first dancer in the west to dance that role. Joining ABT when I did…it was an amazing place to be-to learn from extraordinary dancers before me like Gelsey Kirkland, Natalia Makarova, Cynthia Gregory, Martine Van Hamel-with guests like Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn. To watch Mikhail Baryshnikov daily and to have his eyes on us- to raise our standards. To perform with Fernando Bujones in Japan. To dance with The Royal Ballet! I could go on and on!

Tell us about some of the challenges you faced and how you dealt with them?

I don’t think I’m so different from others in challenges I faced. I’m a hard worker, that is what got me where I landed. I was not special. I over-think. Sometimes, that is not always an advantage. In terms of my own limitations-I had small feet-so, though great for jumping, not great for standing on one leg.

I often had to step in, at the last minute, for the famous ballerinas whom I listed above. At the time, I felt over-whelmed, but had I shown that, I thought it would have looked weak. I went on auto-pilot and just danced.

What was it like performing with Baryshnikov?

Nerve wracking! BUT, once I had danced a few times with him it was easier-I mean, to live up to that standard was, in my mind, impossible. I was like an ingenue trying to be sophisticated. I knew it- others did too! But somehow, he had faith in me. He said very little, but what he said was always of great importance and of value.

You moved into teaching/coaching effortlessly. What drives you in the studio and what is most rewarding about teaching?

The joy on the young dancers’ faces when they accomplish something suggested is contagious. Thinking that maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference in their lives is a beautiful thing. I feel younger for being around them!

Your role as Artistic director of ABT School must have been an enormous honour. What did that role mean to you?

It was an opportunity to have a voice in the conversation of where ballet/dance is going. The honor was returning to ABT, understanding the ethos of the Company and to use that integrity as my guide.

It’s 2023 and like many industries ballet is under the microscope. Why do we still need classical ballet?

Classical ballet is still relevant. Of course, much depends on the interpreters, but the stories often have morals and can be relatable throughout history. Like classical poetry, or classical music, it appeals to many for its beauty. People can appreciate the sculptural harmony and the skill and athleticism involved. I believe that new stories can be created with new movement qualities within the classical vocabulary to invigorate the art form. I’m no choreographer, but I have hope in this generation.

Tell me what you think of Adult Ballet and its benefits? Whether that be someone returning to the feeling of a childhood dream or a beginner starting for the very first time.

Adults are our audiences of today! Ballet can postpone or help with osteoporosis or arthritis when done gently and progressively. If an adult wants to dance, why not? Learning something new in adulthood is also great for the brain!

Does Yoga or Pilates play a part in your life?

BOTH! Only recently I began yoga, but the last ten years of my dancing career, I took body conditioning and Pilates. Getting a stronger core was vital to understanding how to move from my center quickly

If you could have five people at a dinner party dead or alive, who would they be?

Martha Graham, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Fry, George Harrison, Hillary Clinton

Quick fire 5 questions

What book are you currently reading?

The Midnight Library

Favourite piece of music?

It’s not classical…The Beatles, In my Life.

Favourite movie?

City Lights (Charlie Chaplin)

Favourite city in the world and why?

OH…can I have three? Melbourne-just a great place with great people, Barcelona, I love the people, food, and the weather, and New York for the theatre, museums and arts.

Best life advice you were given?

If you fall, make it part of the dance.

I’d like to add my own; think of the source when criticised. Don’t allow it to eat you. Take the good, or what you believe might be useful from any criticism, but try not to allow your ego to fall prey to any negativity. You learn from your mistakes after all.

Scroll to Top