With Help from Her Mentor Martha Graham, Terese Capucilli Adds a New Twist to Some Dance Classics

updated 12/08/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

As a student dancer Terese Capucilli demonstrated that she had something on the ball. A beach ball, actually, on which she danced a number for her high school production of No, No, Nanette. "I was agile," she says modestly of her feat, "and I had a good feel for movement."

Capucilli, now 30, works on firmer terra these days, but she hasn't stopped rolling. Hailed as "the most powerful dramatic dancer of the decade" by the usually temperate New York Times, she has not only taken over center stage as a principal star of the Martha Graham Dance Company but also dances many of the roles once performed by Graham herself. "Her body is extraordinary," marvels the famed choreographer, now 92. "It is highly trained and disciplined, but it has freedom that gives her courage and strength and permits her to do certain impossible things with faith."

Graham won't say whether Capucilli reminds her of herself onstage ("I never saw myself"), but during the past two years she has cast the dancer in Errand Into the Maze, Deaths and Entrances and other modern dance classics that she choreographed for herself decades ago. In 1984 she unveiled a new production set to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the principal role choreographed especially for her protégée. This season came a second, Temptations of the Moon, also starring the petite (5'2"), dark-eyed dancer from Syracuse, N.Y.

The fourth of seven children born to Italian-American parents, Capucilli was first drawn to dance through a childhood interest in musical theater. Her father managed a bowling alley, mom was a housewife and Capucilli became an after-school babysitter and housekeeper to pay for her lessons at the barre. She eventually enrolled at the state university in Purchase, N.Y, and there her lightning-bolt moves and frenzied abandon set her apart. "I didn't consider myself as having great technique," confesses Capucilli. "It was the way I used my strength. I could be very quick, very sharp." And very special. Armed with a scholarship to the Martha Graham School in Manhattan, Capucilli arrived in 1978 and less than a year later joined the troupe. "She had a nervous, highly energized quality that I particularly needed," says Linda Hodes, the company's associate artistic director. "There is nothing phlegmatic or passive about her."

Or timid, for that matter. Bill Randolph, Capucilli's actor husband, whom she met in college and married in 1984, says the dancer is "a regular Jean-Claude Killy" on skis, "runs like the breeze" in softball and is "pretty good at anything athletic." The couple, who share a large studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, even venture out to local bowling lanes, often with Capucilli's longtime pal actress Kathleen Turner and her husband, real estate broker Jay Weiss.

For Capucilli, however, playtime will soon be put on hold. A tour of Europe planned for February will mean ten-hour days of study and rehearsal followed by late-night soaks in vinegar baths to soothe aching muscles. "I don't ever think of why I'm doing it," says the dancer, whose lack of self-examination suggests passion in its purest form. "But if I didn't do it," she adds, "I wouldn't be able to exist."

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