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Alexandra

Farrell's company

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Yesterday's USA Today article about the Kennedy Center's upcoming ballet season included these comments on Suzanne Farrell's ballet company:

And Farrell's company, which made its debut at the Balanchine Festival last fall, may be more promise than punch next year. The retired ballerina, now finding her footing as an artistic director, will present works by choreographers George Balanchine (including Slaughter on Tenth Avenue), Jerome Robbins and Maurice Bejart.

''We're still growing it from a workshop group to a permanent group, still deciding with Suzanne what the right constellation will be -- internationally acclaimed dancers or new young talents, the best of now or the best of the future,'' Kaiser says.

[For full article, see

"]http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20010302/3107923s.htm]

Not that Ms. Farrell needs any advice from us, but are there any opinions on this? Especially from those who saw her first season, with the Washington Ballet as backup to dancers from several companies, including Susan Jaffee, Elena Pankova, and Peter Boal, and the more recent chamber group of dancers, none of them, shall we say, high profile. Whither lies the road to her future?

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Alexandra wrote:

> Not that Ms. Farrell needs any advice from us, but are there any opinions on this? <

As the very last person Ms. Farrell needs advice from, I can safely post some, knowing she won't take it anyhow. I'd rather see her work with highly accomplished dancers. One reason is simply that I don't get to NYC or even the Kennedy Center very often, so I'd like to see top dancers when I do. But the better reason is that I assume the more accomplished a dancer is, the more likely he or she will eventually teach in some capacity. (I know there are exceptions. Rosemary Dunleavey, if I'm not mistaken, never rose very high in the company, but has a unusual gift for remembering choreography). It's bad enough that neither City Ballet or SAB have her teaching all she knows to the dancers who dance Balanchine the most. I hope the dancers she does work with intensively will eventually have the chance to pass on her teaching to many others.

Of course this may be shortsighted. Judging from the performances that she's elicited at the Kennedy Center so far, perhaps I should wish for her to work with young, relatively unformed dancers, so she can mold them as Balanchine molded her. But Balanchine had had her for years, and so far she hasn't been given that kind of time with her own dancers.

[This message has been edited by kfw (edited March 03, 2001).]

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I'm quite sure I read a critic some months back (Tobias perhaps?) who suggested that it would be much better for Farrell to be attached to an already formed company than to try to start her own. I am inclined to agree. Building a company is long term work, and work of all kinds -- administrative, fund-raising, coaching, repertory building etc. etc. etc. However, if Farrell is not company building but only doing "workshops," the long-term benefit of her experience and skill as a coach may be minimized -- whoever the dancers are. It seems unlikely the dancers will be able to develop their roles with the kind of continuity that would both benefit them personally and enable them to become a link in the tradition. If occasional workshops continue, dancers and fans may learn a little, but -- in the long term and relative to what Farrell might accomplish elsewhere -- so what?

I should perhaps say that I only saw her more inexperienced group, and I did not find it to be the revelation that others wrote about...she had obviously worked carefully with young/inexperienced dancers and the results were that they were dancing surprizingly skillfully for young/inexperienced dancers. I don't trivialize the accomplishment, but I was startled at the disconnect between what I was seeing and what I was reading -- which included some very hyperbolic praise...

If Suzanne Farrell really has a vision -- not just tastes, not just connections, not just a gift for coaching dancers, not even just an ability to stage Balanchine -- and she truly desires to build a company to fulfill that vision, then I wish her every blessing and the full support of the Kennedy Center. But I'm a little skeptical. Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine (or for that matter Lucia Chase and Richard Pleasant [?]) -- however much they improvised and however many years they spent working with students and pick-up groups -- always had an ambitious project in mind. You can't "play it by ear" and build a company. In my opinion you can't even "play it by ear" and genuinely preserve a tradition...Of course, it's possible the parties involved are all just being coy, but to what end? How can you raise funds and hire dancers by being coy?

As I understood the critic I was reading, s/he was suggesting that Farrell should be attached to a company with a substantive repertory in place and, ideally, a school (e.g. San Francisco Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Boston Ballet, Miami Ballet -- you name it; I'd even be intrigued to see her at ABT or willing to see her make a career with a European company). This seems a much likelier setting for her work to have some continuity, then a series of workshops with revolving dancers, whatever their background -- and to involve less "waste" of her energies and talents than company building.

If such a scenario is, for various reasons, impossible, then I suppose I think she should be working with top-ranked dancers...although it is hard to know if or how that can be combined with beginning a company from scratch.

P.S. I am not a ballet "insider" and I know we try to avoid gossip on this board, but is it really beyond the realm of all human possibility that someone stage a drastic "intervention" of some kind, or "shuttle diplomacy" to re-establish ties between Farrell and NYCB -- not Farrell as competition to Martins' authority in matters Balanchine (which obviously won't fly), but as an in-house ballet mistress or regular coach for portions of the Balanchine repertory? Surely I can't be the only person to have thought about this?

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited March 04, 2001).]

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Drew, regarding your last wish, perhaps part of the problem (and this is really a guess) is that Farrell is past the stage where it's appropriate for her to merely be on staff and help out.

One of the things I learned from my Danish studies, is that the logical solution "Let's put the artist in the studio and have that other guy do all the fundraising stuff" just doesn't work. The power in a ballet company is in the casting and choice of repertory. If one person has one vision, and the person brought in to wave a wand and save the day by coaching has another, it just won't work.

I hope she goes for the company, too, and I'd love for the Kennedy Center to make that possible. I agree that there was a huge difference between the Washington Ballet performances and the workshop -- but there are many reasons for this. Resources, for one. (There was much more money available the first time.) Also, the Washington Ballet, although at the time it wasn't as homogenous as it was at its founding, was a classical company attached to a school, and so Farrell wasn't starting from scratch. Putting together a dozen dancers of widely divergent backgrounds produces a different product, and none of the dancers in the workshop setting was on a level with the imported stars on the first go-round. (For those who don't follow these things minute by minute, Farrell's first Balanchine week was using guest stars from all over, some of whom she'd worked with before, some not, with the Washington Ballet serving as the corps.

The second time was so experimental, with her changing dancers in roles almost nightly to see what would work, that it didn't produce the same effect. I think what excited critics was that there was a difference -- always for the better -- from night to night.

Farrell may be more a chamber ballet type of artist -- this is purely speculative, and she may do wonderfully with a big company, although if it weren't New York City Ballet, it might be more of a challenge. Perhaps she could do both: a small, stable company with enough money to rehearse and pay for guest stars.

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Or she could be a catalyst for an annual Balanchine celebration at Kennedy Center. It was wonderful to see so many companies represented this past fall.

I think this fits more into the center's role as a performing arts national monument. Imagine an annual Taylor, Robbins, Balanchine, ..... festival where companies come together and we get to see how each company presents these works. The audiences love it as do the dancers.

It will be interesting to see how Kaiser works this through as I believe Wolfenson created this opportunity for Ms. Farrell.

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I'm more intrigued by the Bejartian twist in all of this. Farrell spent several key years of her performing life as star of the Maurice Bejart ballet company. The Kennedy Center's website notes that the Farrell Troupe will be dancing both Balanchine & Bejart masterworks (no mention of Robbins on the official KenCen site, the last time that I checked). Am I the only one on this Board who finds this to be a bit of a waste? I guess that the Boston Ballet Board of Directors are not alone in their admiration for Mr. Bejart/"Eurotrash" (not my invention of a term for Bejart Ballets)?

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Our own Leigh Witchel has written a very interesting and balanced review of the Farrell company New Yorkers saw at the Joyce Theatre in the Fall 2000 issue of Ballet Review. Unlike many of the other reviews I read, which wildly overpraised the company, Leigh gives an accurate picture of the company's strengths and weaknesses. I have felt that many of the other reviews were intended as a slap to Martins rather than an assesment of what, at least, I saw onstage, which was a very young troupe with some interesting dancers but a very uneven performance style.

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More on the Kenn Cen website announcement:

The specific Bejart ballets to be danced include BOLERO and BACH SONATA.

No specific Robbins cited.

Very amusing that -- according to the website -- "new pieces in the [Farrell troupe's] repertory" will include SCOTCH SYMPHONY and SLAUGHTER on 10th AVENUE. New in the repertoire? Both were danced in the troupe's initial season, in 1995.

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Technically, the first appearances with the Washington Ballet were not the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, hence the designation is accurate.

Re Bejart, it will be interesting to see what the reaction is. It might upset anyone who sees Farrell's only mission in life to be to preserve Balanchine's oeuvre. She's staging ballets that she feels she knows, and she's written that she learned a lot about performing from Bejart. He continues to be a controversial choreographer, but he is not universally despised. smile.gif I know several critics who insist, knowing they're flowing against the mainstream, that Bejart is a top-level choreographer; you have to see beyond the obvious theatricality. The difference between Farrell staging Bejart and Gielgud's bringing his ballets to Copenhagen and Boston is impossible to explain in a post and I'm not going to try smile.gif

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What will Ms. Farrell use for rep when she finishes those ballets she danced?

Bolero is a star vehicle dependent on the centerpiece (literally in the middle of the table).

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Alexandra, I don't think you need to explain the difference! I think it would be quite interesting to see Farrell's interpretation of Bejart, whether or not one considers him an outstanding choreographer, because of her own apparently positive connection with him.

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Right, mbjerk (re. BOLERO)! I've seen *both* male & female dancers in the leading role, on top of the table, too...everyone from Maya Plisetskaya to Jorge Donn!

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Originally posted by mbjerk:

What will Ms. Farrell use for rep when she finishes those ballets she danced?

Well, I think her repertory contains well over 100 roles, so that should feed a repertory for at least a year or two smile.gif

I'm curious, though. I take your comment to mean that forming a repertory of ballets in which Farrell danced is a limitation? To me, it's a strength to teach and stage what you know. I'm tired of seeing bad "Swan Lakes" staged by people who never danced in them, and I've come to believe that notators are necessary when a truly first-rate coach isn't available. I'd be interested in hearing the other side of that argument (and forgive me, mbjerk, if I've misunderstood you).

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I wouldn't mind seeing a little Bejart. Since Farrell feels so strongly about what she learned while she was with him, let's see what she can do with it.

At the time she returned to Balanchine (after her Bejart years), some critics actually felt that her dancing had improved....... smile.gif

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Alexandra I agree that one should begin with what one knows best. Yet given that Ms. Farrell stopped dancing long ago and that dance has moved forward it seems limiting to me to focus on a single person's historical repertoire.

I would love to see both Balanchine and Bejart staged here in DC. I love the idea of a ballet company. But I would grow weary very quickly of only Bejart and Balanchine.

Different tastes. I am always looking to use current dance to learn more of older ballets and vice versa.

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I think I'd quibble that dance has moved forward since Farrell stopped dancing biggrin.gif

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Forward does not imply progress, only direction. On that note I would play devil's advocate to your diagnosis, but very half heartedly.

You must admit there are some ballets and choreographers since the eighties (19 not 18) that have produced works to be seen more than once.

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Back to the question as to what we would like to see Farrell doing (with the understanding, of course, that our opinions count as nothing!), I would like to see her work with established dancers, passing on her roles. She has shown so strongly that she is a wonderful coach, able to bring out the best in a dancer without making her a mannered, Farrell clone. There seems to be a certain individualistic quality missing in some lead dancers today, and anything that helps would be so welcome.

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Jeannie's not the only one here who thinks staging Bejart is a bit of a waste, compared to Balanchine; but I would say, only a bit. Agreeing with our premise that she's not going to take our advice is pretty easy: I wouldn't say that to her not only on principle, because I feel I owe her too much for what her dancing did for us and for Mr. B, but also because among the three Bejart ballets I've seen, one was pretty good: "Le Sacre du Printemps", which I went to see because I had read somewhere that "You can't do it, but it's the best one," was Balanchine's own opinion of it (He never saw Paul Taylor's setting.).

On the program with it was "Salome", with Patrick Dupond in a black skirt, which was a stretch to take seriously, and years before, I saw the film of "Bolero", which seemed to me defeated by the music. So I don't completely write off staging Bejart, and I may even be ready for "Bolero" again. On stage this time. But I don't expect much as much from him. Still, if he can make one good ballet, maybe he made some others.

(When the women came out for the second part of "Le Sacre", my Balanchine-trained expectations rose, to be disappointed; it seemed to me at the time that Bejart had been more interested in choreographing the men.)

But the idea of a company where dancers can benefit more from what Farrell can give them is important, whether it's her own or another, as Tobias suggested. I'm not sure it matters what the experience of the dancers in it is. What does matter is whether they're open to her teaching. Don't some people learn one way, and that's it, while others are continually learning and developing?

[This message has been edited by Jack Reed (edited March 16, 2001).]

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