Cynthia Harvey answers the Gramilano Questionnaire… Dancers’ Edition


Cynthia-Harvey-KitriWhen did you start dancing?
At age 8. A short time ago.

Why did you start dancing?
Apparently I preferred it to walking; actually I still do. Music was frequently played at home. My mother loved musicals and I think she secretly would have wished me to be in musical theatre. BUT, I saw and on television and wanted to be Margot. Fonteyn seemed like a princess. Once I began, I liked the serenity of it. Somehow the quiet and challenge of moving my body, albeit to music, was very personal. It was something that I could do in relative peace.

Which dancer inspired you most as a child?
As I said, Fonteyn initially, but I also loved watching performances of Antonio Gades, , , , Carmen Amaya, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Eleanor Powell, Ginger Rogers, Antoinette Sibley, and Anthony Dowell, whether live or on film.

Which dancer do you most admire?
Mikhail Baryshnikov for his exacting standard and for imparting that standard to me.

What’s your favourite role?
My favourite role was Giselle. I loved dancing the entire ballet but Act II was what was special to me. It is what I imagine being a higher spiritual being could be like. The power of Giselle’s love transcends hatred and revenge. Her love is not diminishing, thus allowing Albrecht peace, making a perfect romantic ballet.

What role have you never played but would have liked to?
A Bond Girl

What’s your favourite ballet to watch?
At this moment in time, anything being danced by .

Who is your favourite choreographer?
I can’t say I have a single favourite.

I have admired works attributed to Petipa, and dances choreographed by Ashton, Balanchine, MacMillan, Tudor, Robbins, Graham, Bausch, Ratmansky, Wheeldon, Michael Corder, young Cameron McMillan, the talented David Dawson, and most recently I saw a piece by Goyo Montero that I absolutely loved.

Who is your favourite writer?

Who is your favourite director?
Pedro Almodóvar for film, Peter Sellars for opera, Simon McBurney for his theatre company, Complicite, the likes of which I have never seen bettered, and obviously ALL the ballet school and company directors who hire me to teach and coach.

Who is your favourite actor?
Charlie Chaplin

Who is your favourite singer?
John, George, Paul and Ringo – one voice. Check this out: Because from Abbey Road on Anthology 3.

What is your favourite book?
Anna Karenina.

What is your favourite film?
I can’t name one. My top five are, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, The Tramp, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Skin I Live In.

Which is your favourite city?
It’s a toss up between San Francisco and Melbourne.

What do you like most about yourself?
My reliability.

What do you dislike about yourself?
My expectations, my cynicism and the fact that I still don’t know when to use a comma in a sentence or how to use an apostrophe when writing possessive plurals.

What was your proudest moment?
There hasn’t only been one. Isn’t pride supposed to be a sin?

The première of Giselle I staged in Oslo for Den Norske Ballet made me weepy with pride, and the way the dancers in Hong Kong danced The Sleeping Beauty when I staged it there for The Hong Kong Ballet had me completely overwhelmed. Both these instances were far more rewarding than any personal dancing experience.

I was extremely proud when my son recently told me that he got a commendation in school for most improved.

When and where were you happiest?
In the theatre of my mind and in my dreams on a regular basis.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
(I’m leaving this blank Graham – can’t find an easy answer) – [I’m leaving this in, for it is in itself an answer – Gramilano]

Theme and Variations with Wes Chapman
Theme and Variations with Wes Chapman

What is your greatest fear?
Not progressing. That and being stuck in space when the line tethering me to the spacecraft has broken.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Just ONE thing? I’d like to be less sentimental. I cry at the most ridiculous things. After that, I’d like to change my natural hair colour as well as the aging process.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising my son to be the decent young man that he is.

What is your most treasured possession?
I’d definitely grab my laptop if there was a fire.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My small collection of original vintage Beatles memorabilia.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Being virtuous.

On what occasion do you lie?
To myself; when I feel ill, when I am tired, or when I am unhappy.

If you hadn’t been a dancer what would you have liked to be?
I would love to have been a composer or songwriter,

What is your most marked characteristic?
I have a birthmark on my right thigh.
Otherwise, in my opinion it is empathy. In other people’s opinion, I’ve heard it’s “positive energy”.

What quality do you most value in a friend?
Aside from being alive it would have to be reliability. But if I could choose other qualities I’d have to include good humour and good timekeeping.

What quality do you most value in a colleague?
Same as above plus integrity.

Which historical figure do you most admire?
Joseph Swan, inventor of the light bulb (no, it wasn’t Thomas Edison). Without Swan, I’d still be in the dark about most things.

Which living person do you most admire?
Alessandro Zanardi, the race car driver who in the aftermath of a huge crash that resulted in losing both legs, returned to racing less than two years later. He then switched sports and took up handbiking (paralympic cycling) and competed in the Paralympics in London 2012, where he won two gold medals.

What do you most dislike?
Dirty fingernails and olives, though nothing irritates me more than indolence and tardiness.

What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to predict the future, to stop the endless rain that we’ve experienced this winter and spring, to be a talented diplomat, to multitask, and to play an instrument well. If I could multitask, I’d be able to do all that!

What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
10 hours of sleep and waking up in warmth and sunshine – BLISS!

How would you like to die?

What is your motto?
If you stumble, make it part of the dance.

– a biography

Cynthia Harvey’s style marked her as one of the most versatile and valued artists. Ms Harvey danced virtually every ballerina role with American Ballet Theatre and also had the distinction of being invited by Sir Anthony Dowell to be a principal ballerina of the Royal Ballet – the first American dancer to have that honour. Harvey performed as guest artist with Baryshnikov and Company, Nureyev and Friends and numerous internationally renowned ballet companies before retiring in 1996.

On video, Ms Harvey appears as Kitri opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in his production of Don Quixote in a variation from Paquita in Natalia Makarova’s The Ballerina, the Waltz variation in Les Sylphides,  and a variation from Paquita (American Ballet Theatre dances Petitpa) and, in the documentary, Tchaikovsky’s Women for Britain’s Channel 4.  She is a featured artist in the Fred Weismann documentary on The American Ballet Theatre.

Co-author of Physics of Dance & the Pas de Deux, she has been guest teacher for The Norwegian National Ballet Company where outside of teaching and coaching she helped re-stage a production of The Sleeping Beauty in 2008 and where in 2009 she staged her own complete production of the ballet Giselle.

In October 2010, the première of her full-length production of The Sleeping Beauty for The Hong Kong Ballet was met with acclaim

Ms Harvey is in demand as a guest teacher and ballet mistress. She has taught for The American Ballet Theatre, The Australian Ballet, in Milan, The Royal Swedish Ballet and is a regular guest ballet mistress at the Semperöper Ballett, Dresden, and The Royal Ballet of Flanders. She has also taught periodically at The Royal Ballet School in London as well as the School for the Basel Ballet, and as Principal Guest teacher for the School.

As a sought after teacher and jury member, Ms Harvey has appeared at several competitions, among them, The Prix de Lausanne, The Rosetta Mauri,  The Tanzolymp, the First International Competition in Sitges, Spain and, in 2013, the Dance World Cup Spain.

Ms Harvey has been on the board of DanceEast, the national agency for dance in England and was a prominent member of the committee that saw major ballet directors and ballet school directors from around the world gather to discuss issues relating to improving life for ballet companies and schools. She stepped down as the standards assessor for The Council for Dance Education and Training in the UK in 2010.  She has recently been made a member of the International Council of Dance.

Cynthia Harvey with cat


  1. Douglas Lowrie says

    I knew Cynthia in the 1970s and 1980s when she was with ABT. She was the most exquisite creature to watch and was always kind, funny, generous and worked with such intelligence, sensitivity and integrity. Always thoroughly professional. These qualities were among those which made her a great artist, a true Prima Ballerina Assoluta. I miss you, Cynthia. All the best!

  2. Jen says

    I’ve only seen Ms Harvey in video, but she’s been an inspiration to be and as a young ballerina I’ve learnt a lot from watching her dance. Now I can appreciate her as a person too – she must be a good friend to have. Thank you Gramilano, and thank you Cynthia Harvey.

  3. Julia Penny says

    She’s my favourite Kitri of all time, but great to read she preferred to dance Giselle. Me too – if I could only do the steps!!!!!!! But I’m learning 😉

    • Douglas Lowrie says

      Julia – She was equally brilliant in both roles. I saw her Kitri with Baryshnikov and it was amazing. They are both challenging in different ways. Kitri requires such razor sharp technique, precision and speed, while Giselle requires strength and a delicacy of placement and movement that belies that strength. Merde to you in all the roles you undertake!

  4. David East says

    Douglas, you are so lucky. I missed the Don Q, but the Giselles were something. Making that 2nd act seem so effortless, and conveying so much with so little, that is only for the greats.

    • Douglas Lowrie says

      I agree, David. She was always flawless and effortless, particularly in the second act. What can I tell you about her Kitri? Same qualities. I saw the Don Q premiere with Gelsey and Misha, which was a night I will never forget – unlike any ballet performance I have seen. So, Cynthia’s Kitri was different, but just as riveting as Gelsey’s.

  5. beachmama says

    I remember Cynthia as a little girl. She is the younger sister of a school friend of mine. Even as a very young girl Cynthia was full of grace in body and in spirit. It was fun reading her interview answers . . . I especially agree with her answer about the one voice of the Beatles in ‘Because’ . . .

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