"Everyone in the company is dealing with this terrible pressure," Kirkland says. "Eight ballets this season. They're overwhelmed. And I have a lot of compassion for people who can just get through it. Of course, that doesn't help the audience understand." But she believes that you have "to be able to accept that it's good just to get everybody out there, functioning as a company, synchronized on the right counts, all of that."
As a one-on-one coach, Kirkland says, she's frustrated by dancers who don't have enough time to absorb interpretive concepts that are central to what the production is trying to achieve. "By the last act, Aurora should not be still in any way a coquette," she explains. "She has to express grace and majesty that's of another world. The spirit that's in her is about giving to the kingdom -- and to get that across to people [in the company] is impossible. It's not happening. I have put in my two cents' worth, and it's been rejected. It's very humbling: I realize that I'm powerless on many levels."
She's had more success with the gift fairies, she says. "They've done some fine, fine work. The Joy Fairy was truly joyful on opening night. You have to be able to take direction like that. You've got to fly with it. But this is where we are. It's a trust problem. When we came into the company, the dancers had never worked with us. So in order for them to remain open and trusting, it takes patience and time. We can't control everything."
And so a woman who has always been a fighter -- and says that what she achieved in her career was "worth all the fighting" -- accepts a partial victory in handing on her insights into the deepest expressive resources of the art. "Even if the dancers can listen for a moment," she says, "even if it doesn't get manifest, that's a real achievement because that means they've quieted down enough to be able to receive it. The process of getting it out of the body is something else."
Segal is The Times' dance critic.
American Ballet Theatre
Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Price: $25 to $95
Contact: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org