Ballet of Bravery
05/06/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
LIVELY BROADWAY SHOW TUNE fills the air in a rehearsal studio on Manhattan's West Side. Practicing her moves for a performance by the Infinity Dance Theater, the company she founded in 1995, Kitty Lunn sways to the music, her arms waving gently like windblown grasses. Her partner Christopher Nelson glides to her side, sweeping her into his arms in a move so seamless, an observer almost forgets that Lunn, a paraplegic, has been sitting in a wheelchair. That's precisely the effect she desires. "I want," she says, "to command the same respect sitting down as I did standing up."
It has been nine years since the day Lunn, a Broadway-bound actress, slipped on an icy stairway in New York City, crushing her spine. In a profession in which crow's-feet are sources of trauma, Lunn, 45, has made a remarkable comeback. In recent years she has appeared on soaps including CBS's As the World Turns, as well as in print and TV ads. In August her dance troupe will perform in Atlanta during the arts festival held in concert with the Summer Olympics. Says Infinity dancer Robert Koval: "She takes life and does everything with it. Kitty is an inspiration."
Little in Lunn's early life prepared her for such a test of character. From age 10, she studied dance while growing up in New Orleans, the youngest of three children of Hugh Morrison, an insurance agency owner, and his wife, Beatrice, a homemaker. Lunn left her hometown high school as a sophomore and entered the Washington School of Ballet in 1968, where she began acting. Several years later she moved to New York City, building a career on soaps and in TV commercials. Then, on Jan. 28, 1987, she was preparing for her first Broadway role, in Sherlock's Last Case, a comedy starring Frank Langella, when she fell on the steps of an office building. "It was like glass shards in my spinal cord," says Lunn.
Hospitalized for most of the next 2½ years, Lunn endured five operations and was racked by such excruciating pain, she says, that she often considered suicide. What helped her through was the love of Andrew Macmillan, an actor, now 65, whom Lunn had met shortly before her accident. He visited her every day. After four months he proposed and she accepted. The wisdom of her choice was confirmed when they applied for a marriage license and, she recalls, a city clerk said, "Isn't that nice? He's marrying you anyway." Snapped Macmillan: "I'm damned lucky she'll have me."
Insensitivity such as that clerk's, Lunn says, left her feeling that her identity "was disappearing"—that others saw only her wheelchair. As a result, she plunged back into auditions and won election in 1990 to the board of Actors' Equity, where she is a forceful advocate for disabled performers. "Kitty has raised the consciousness of the entire entertainment industry," Equity executive Alan Eisenberg told USA Today.
These days, as she rehearses 15 hours a week in her customized, 17-pound chair for the Infinity troupe's Olympics performance, Lunn hopes to tweak consciences around the world. One piece she will perform is titled "Inside My Body There Is a Dancer"—and it's the inner artist she wants audiences to see. "My soul," Lunn explains, "wasn't injured in that fall."
ANNE LONGLEY in New York City