By LINDA HERRICK
The time Dora Krannig met Rudolf Nureyev, she was a young slip of a thing in the 60s at the Royal School of Ballet in London, living away from her Zurich home for the first time, unable to speak a word of English.
But some things transcend language.
"Nureyev was practising when I came into the room and I went to the window," she recalls, leaping up to demonstrate. "A lot of people were scared of him. He came towards me and he threw such an intensity at me, I jumped back. He was laughing at me."
Not an auspicious start, but Krannig went on to dance with the great man in London and back home in Zurich, in Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. She learned things from him she uses in her teaching to this day.
"His dancing was incredibly sensual and sexual - he was very, very intense. He was an animal on stage - he had an animal fluidity. When he would spin he would take a sip of breath for every single turn, then exhale coming down very loudly like, whoosh! That works, and nobody else ever taught me that. If you breathe correctly, dancing becomes a lot simpler."
But Krannig's career as a prima ballerina came to an abrupt end when she was 28, rushed to hospital with a strangulated hernia. When she woke up after an operation, her left leg didn't "work" - an affliction she surprisingly describes as "probably the best thing that happened to me".
In a life marked by change and adaptation, Krannig fled to New York to try to get back into shape. "I went to New York because I didn't want people I knew to see me falling down."
Then, in 1974, her unforeseen transition from felled dancer to teacher began when she went to Paris and called an old mentor at Studio Marais, and started temping as an advanced-professional ballet teacher. Her excellence was noticed and she was snapped up by Les Ballets du Rhin in Strasbourg.
It didn't last long. "I got married to an American, not a happy marriage, and we moved to New York, where I started teaching with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. But then we had to move again, to Giesen in Germany, where I didn't have a work permit, so I just kept myself going by teaching as a volunteer."
Krannig shifted to Los Angeles in 1981 - a city she loathed at first sight, and where she stayed for 20 years.
"I was shocked by Los Angeles," she says with vehemence. "I hated it, I found it extremely ugly. I thought I'd never have a decent cup of coffee again or an intelligent conversation with anyone. There wasn't much going on with dance. But I was very lucky. I became one of the top dance teachers in Los Angeles very quickly."
Or, more specifically, one of the top teachers in Hollywood, where she became the ballet department director at the Hollywood Dance Center, counting among her pupils the actress Meg Tilly (The Big Chill, Agnes of God), George Chakiris (who won an Oscar for his role in West Side Story) and members of the American Ballet Theater and San Francisco Ballet.
Krannig had also become a renowned choreographer, working on La Traviata and Anna Karenina for the LA Opera Repertory Theatre, and she had an ongoing music video production relationship with singer Janis Ian, who describes herself on the internet as "the worst pupil Dora ever had".
Through the 90s, Krannig taught advanced classes at the Los Angeles Dance Academy and jazz master Joe Tremaine's school.
She also entered yet another phase of her career, teaching at an academic level at the university-level Glendale Community College near Pasadena, lured by New Zealander Hilary Le Mieux, who was professor of dance at the school and now chairs the AUT dance degree advisory board.
It was the start of an important discovery which ultimately led to Krannig's New Zealand sojourn.
"When I was teaching I was often the person turned to when someone got injured," she says. "I understand how the body works and how the balance of the centre of the body works.
"But once I started teaching at institutions at university level I began to realise a lot of dancers start out with very bad training, imposing a style which may injure the body. The education we were offering the dancers was really wrong.
"Either we built the physical side of dance and they have no other skills in life and might last five or 10 years, then they have nothing; or they might have mostly developed the academic side and they don't know how to dance. That's why I came to AUT."
AUT dance programmes head Susan Graham says that the three-year degree course, which has been running since last July, emphasises a holistic approach.
It has already attracted international interest, with inquiries for next year's course entries coming from Brazil, Japan, London and Mexico.
"Our programme marries the academic and the dancing. Our students range in age from 17 to 66, but we don't take beginners - most of our people have danced for at least eight years before they can enter.
"We are taking a long-term approach to develop people with the skills to work in the field of dance for the rest of their lives and make a decent living.
"Our advisory group identified the skills they had picked up along the way during their careers in dance, what they had needed to keep working. Our people are learning performance, but also teaching, science, business skills, how to run a studio ...
"A lot of people come out of ballet school with nothing to offer in a job. We will have graduates coming out who can teach dance to preschoolers, high school students, the elderly, people with disabilities. One person will use dance as part of the restorative justice system on the marae."
Krannig's appointment as senior lecturer, starting this semester, was a coup, says Graham with glee - "when I went to visit Dora in Los Angeles I had a lot of people ringing me to say they were not very happy we were taking her".
Krannig says she's "ecstatic" to be in New Zealand, her perception of its beauty enhanced by the bonus of feeling like a safe place post-September 11.
And then there's that great job ...
"What I'm trying to bring to AUT is the knowledge of different styles. The degree course here is heaven in terms of educating a dancer."
By LINDA HERRICK