BWW Dance Interviews: Kitty Lunn
Kitty Lunn is something of a phenomenon in the dance world. A former principal dancer with the Washington Ballet, she was a relatively new arrival in New York. She had just gotten into her first Broadway show when she slipped on a piece of ice at the top of a staircase and suffered a violent fall down the stairs, breaking her back and rendering her paraplegic. After years of surgeries, physical therapy, and physical and emotional adjustments, Kitty decided to continue her dance career. She remains a beautiful, poised, and glamorous performer and, in addition to performing, she teaches a method which she devised over the years for disabled people. She is also an advocate for persons with disabilities--she sued no less than Lincoln Center and Radio City Music Hall to make improvements for disabled folks in their facilities. Kitty's Infinity Dance Theatre will appear at Theater for the New City, December 6-8, featuring repertory performances with choreography by Lunn, Peter Pucci, Alice Sheppard and Carla Vannucchi.
How did you first become interested in dance?
My grandmother took me to see The Red Shoes when I was 8 years old, and as soon as I saw beautiful, red-haired Moira Shearer, I knew that's what I wanted to do, so I asked my parents if I could have dancing lessons.
Where did you first study dance?
My first teacher was Leila Haller in my hometown of New Orleans. She had the distinction of being the first American dancer to become a soloist with the Paris Opera Ballet. I was very fortunate to have started with such a fine teacher. She told my grandmother that she thought I had talent and gave me a scholarship, which then led to another scholarship to the Washington Ballet School when I was 16.
You had a very memorable encounter with Agnes De Mille.
Ms. de Mille was a guest artist in residence with the Washington Ballet, and used to hold court. We literally sat at her feet and listened to her and told her how we felt. There was, of course, a lot of complaining from the students about their bodies; my complaint was that I was too short. I remember Ms. de Mille took my face in her hands and said: "Kitty dear, you have to learn to dance in the body you have," a remark which has come to my rescue over the years.
What was your first professional dance experience?
I danced at home in New Orleans, but my first professional job was with the Washington Ballet. My first solo was the Spanish dance in Nutcracker, and I subsequently danced Swanhilda in Coppelia, Cerrito in Pas de Quatre, and the Mazurka in Les Sylphides. I continued to have great training in Washington, especially with Edward Caton, who ended each class with 32 entrechat six for the men and women!
You were going to appear in a Broadway show when you slipped on a piece of ice and fell down a flight of steps, breaking your back. Did you have to undergo surgery and physical therapy?
Yes, I had five surgeries and was in the hospital for almost three years. That was followed by five years of physical therapy five days a week, five hours a day.
What was the prognosis you received from your doctors?