2/2/23 O&A NYC MORE HARKNESS STORIES: William Starrett Visiting Mrs. Harkness’s Nassau Home With David Howard and Gelsey Kirkland

An American Ballet Story, a documentary about the the all too short life of the Harkness Ballet, will have it’s New York live screening premiere on April 20th at the New York Public Library Performing Arts – Bruno Walter Auditorium. O&A NYC Magazine. Editor in Chief Walter Rutledge will moderate the post screening Q and A. An American Ballet Story takes us into the stages and studios of the Harkness Ballet through the stories of the dancers who were there. The screening is free but you must reserve seating in advance. 

If you have a stories you would like to share about your Harkness experience please send your articles (250- 500 words recommended) and  photos to walt.harkness@gmail.com.

By William Starrett

I wanted to share a couple of memorable experiences I had at the Harkness House and Mrs. Harkness’ property in Nassau.

In the mid-‘70’s, I had the pleasure of finding myself taking ballet classes taught by David Howard in the studio at Harkness House on the upper east side. I will never forget the absolutely dramatic décor of the Harkness house with its painted ceilings, gilded moldings, and exquisite furnishings and ascending the marble staircase to the studio on the 2nd floor. The studio had the same gilded moldings and a grand piano.

David Howard held open classes which I attended during the time that Mr. Howard was also coaching Gelsey Kirkland for her first-time appearance as Aurora in ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty. Howard and I alternated dancing the roles of all the cavaliers for the rose adagio during these sessions. David Howard’s classes were so popular that often more than 120 dancers would be in attendance. He held classes in the large studio which had a small adjoining annex. The classes would grow so large that someone from the smaller room had to peep through the door to see the combinations being presented in the studio and communicate that to the dancers in the smaller room.

I fondly recall that during breaks, I would sneak upstairs and plunder through the archives of Harkness Ballet and I particularly remember the cassette tapes of all the Harkness Ballet performances housed in the archive.

I also recall with great fondness an occasion when Rebecca Harkness gave David Howard use of her home in Nassau, Bahama for his vacation. David was kind enough to invite both Gelsey Kirkland and me to join him in Nassau. Gelsey stayed for one week and David and I for two weeks. The house was amazing as befitted Rebecca Harkness, simple with a breakfast room which sat 36,  and I will always remember that it included the services of a butler by the name of Willard. I remember the opulent setting and David Howard providing a private class for Gelsey and me each day of our visit in the ballet studio which overlooked the ocean. The studio had one wall of glass on the oceanfront, one mirrored wall, and a wall filled with music and dance-related books, while the 4th wall was occupied by the grand piano. Adjacent to the studio was a sauna, so our daily routine became a rigorous ballet class followed by a swim, followed by a trip to the sauna.

I’ve also included a photograph taken in the studio at Harkness House. The photo is of me and Jean Ahearn who was a 1st Runner Up Miss America and went on to be a top Ford model, gracing the pages of both the Italian and French Vogue Magazines.


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