“As a professional dancer, I’ve come to realize that what makes this art form truly magical is something beyond technique. Gaynor Mindens give me the added confidence to reach this next level. I know my shoes will be soundless and fit perfectly. I go onstage ready to completely enjoy the movement and the moment.”
[Note: Since this article was written, Gillian Murphy’s career has soared to even greater heights. Her repertoire now includes most principal roles at American Ballet Theatre, including Juliet, Cinderella, Titania in The Dream, Aurora and Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, the Balanchine repertoire, and many others. She has performed all over the world and was seen by millions when she was chosen to dance Odette/Odile for Dance in America’s televised performance of Swan Lake.
From The New York Times: “Excellent in the female lead… Ms. Murphy used her incredible technique as root to find the freedom within the rippling architecture of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 2… her naturally regal demeanor allowed the ballet to bloom like a flower.”
From The New Yorker: “I have never seen such feet before: strong as a truncheon, sensitive as a finger.”
From The New York Observer: “The crown of the Balanchine experience, and of the entire season, was the performance of Gillian Murphy in Theme and Variations… a true ballerina, she triumphed easily over all difficulties.”
Over the past five years, Gillian Murphy has made the awesome but nerve-racking leap from being a “promising newcomer” at American Ballet Theatre, according to dance critic Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times, to one of the company’s full fledged stars. Gillian has been called an “expansive, lovely dancer whose radiance is elucidated by sensitive musical phrasing” by Jordan Levin of the Miami Herald. In addition, she was dubbed “fearless, flawless, and versatile” by Gus Solomons, Jr. of Dance Magazine, who named her one of their 25 To Watch in 2002.
Gillian’s breathtaking mastery of technique manifested itself at a young age, and inevitably drew her to the attention of the ballet world outside her home state of South Carolina. After a brief stint with the Columbia City Ballet at the age of thirteen, Gillian spent three years studying at the North Carolina School for the Arts (NCSA) with her mentor and teacher Melissa Hayden, a protege of Balanchine and a former prima ballerina with New York City Ballet. During her time at NCSA, Gillian was a finalist for the Jackson International Competition. A year later, at age fifteen, she was the recipient of the prestigious Prix d’Espoir at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland.
Gillian’s hard work and prodigious talent soon garnered her an offer to join the corps of one of the world’s greatest companies, American Ballet Theatre. As Gillian says, “I felt – and still feel – that ABT is the perfect company for me. It’s incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by people who have such unique approaches to dance, but also have such genuine respect for each other. I love the repertoire and the emphasis in the classical ballets of having real motivation behind each movement.”
Even in her first years in the ABT corps, Gillian was often singled out for future stardom. As Time Out: New York declared, Gillian “has the elegance and sophistication of a far more experienced dancer.” Some of Gillian’s breakthrough roles included the fouette girl in Les Patineurs, one of the odalisques in Le Corsaire, Gamzatti in La Bayadere, and the principal in Etudes. “They were all a good showcase for me,” noted Gillian of the parts, “but what was especially eye-opening to work on was Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels. It involves a different vocabulary and approach to movement which gave me a glimpse into the complexity and beauty of modern dance.” Such respect for the art form and virtuosity also led Gillian to be nominated for and win the coveted Princess Grace award in 1998.
After these initial successes, Gillian got the chance to take on some of ABT’s Balanchine repertoire, including the ballerina role in Theme and Variations. Robert Gottlieb of The New York Observer wrote, “the crown of the Balanchine experience, and of the entire season, was the performance of Gillian Murphy in Theme and Variations… undaunted by the formidable technical challenges… she triumphed easily over all difficulties.” She was also given more demanding dramatic roles, such as the chilling Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, in Giselle and the sassy, flirtatious Kitri in Don Quixote. “Myrta and Kitri are almost completely opposite roles,” notes Gillian. “Myrta is ghostly and vengeful, while Kitri is fun and full of life. But they both gave me a chance to investigate what in my experiences, thoughts, or imagination relates to that of each character. This is an endless process which fascinates me, because the more a dancer grows as a person, the more he or she can develop as an artist.”
Both Myrta and Kitri, among other parts, made excellent preparation for Gillian’s next and biggest star turn, when she got a chance to take on ballet’s “ultimate role,” Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, in the summer of 2001. And, as with all previous challenges, Gillian rose to the task. “Ms. Murphy was perfect, her body stretched to the utmost, a model of clarity and phrasing,” effused the New York Times. And Jennifer Fisher of the Los Angeles Times deemed her the new “gold standard” for Odette/Odile. Said Gillian of the experience, “it was a dream come true.”
Throughout her rise from NCSA to the highest ranks of ABT, Gillian has relied primarily on self-discipline, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor. “When I’m not dancing, I love to read and to travel – fortunately the often hectic ABT touring schedule gives me plenty of time to do both!” And, of course, Gillian has also relied on an ample supply of Gaynor Mindens. “As an aspiring dancer, even as a student, I wore Gaynor Minden pointe shoes. They don’t make noise, since they use state-of-the-art materials. They’re as silent as pointe shoes get. And not only are they extremely comfortable but they last so much longer than other shoes. These days, I rely on my Gaynor Mindens for their support and their versatility. I really believe they are the future of pointe shoes.”
That’s no small testimonial coming from the future of ballet. Indeed, brimming over with optimism and excitement, Gillian looks to her own future with unvarnished enthusiasm. “I’m extremely fortunate to have had the chance to pursue my dreams,” she says. “The road ahead of me holds so many opportunities for me to continue learning. I look forward to the challenge!”
Written by Kevin Murphy
Main photo and White Swan multi-exposure shot by Eduardo Patino, Swan Lake performance shot by Neff.