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WHEN THE curtain rose Feb. 10 on Washington Ballet's new staging of Antony Tudor's romantic classic The Leaves Are Fading, viewers who had seen the work debut at American Ballet Theatre twenty-five years earlier were taken by surprise. Had the clock stood still? Had we traveled back in time? The woman who opens the ballet and leads the other dancers in, musing as she wanders across the stage to Antonin Dvorak's evocative music, looked and moved astonishingly like the Kim Highton for whom Tudor had created the role. Highton made the walk-on memorable. Her presence lingered throughout the piece, which seemed to be taking place in her thoughts. She reappeared at the ballet's end, dispersing the dancers into the wings and looking up into the trees as she crossed the stage and the curtain descended.

There had been no advance publicity about Highton and the program listed a differently spelled last name. Could this be her daughter? At intermission, WB's spokesperson Judith Keyserling confirmed that this was indeed "the" Kim Highton--one of American Ballet Theatre's most admired dancers in the early to mid-1970s, and again in the early `80s. Tagged as ballerina potential soon after joining the company, her first solo part was the classical adagio danseuse in Lichine's Graduation Ball. In the Shades scene of La Bayadere she danced the second and third variations, and was rehearsing the ballerina role, Nikiya, but didn't appear in it due to injury. It was because Highton was injured that Tudor made the walking role in Leaves for her in 1975.

Rejoining ABT in the `80s, Highton appeared as the Coquette in Balanchine's La Sonnambula and the ballerina in the midsection of his Bourree Fantasque. Again she gained a following, but after a couple of seasons she retired, due to persistent pain. During her ABT career, Highton was considered somewhat of a mystery by the public, because of her reputation for canceling scheduled performances and then appearing unscheduled to substitute for other dancers.

Where has Highton been since leaving the stage? She returned to her hometown, Washington, and began working in an art gallery because, as she said, "I come from a family of painters." Eventually she started taking class again at the Washington Ballet, her first school. That's where Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner encountered her when they came to stage Leaves this season. Their careers had overlapped with hers at ABT, yet they not seen her do the walk-on. Tudor, though, had told them about her performance, and they invited her to appear in her former part. "At first I declined," she recalled. "I felt not in shape. Then one day, I heard the music coming from the upstairs studio and changed my mind." Highton also upped the number of classes she was taking to five per week. Her presence on stage in Leaves, which was paired with Septime Webre's gutsy yet lyrical Carmina Burana, was a major asset. Though she hasn't announced plans to take on additional roles, fans are hoping for more Highton sightings in the future.
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Author:Jackson, George
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2000
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