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Balanchine's muses


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#1 Allegro

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Posted 16 August 2000 - 02:48 PM

I am sure this has been talked about before, but I would be very intrested on people's comments about Balanchine's muses......who do you think is the best? I, personally, like Suzanne Farrell and Darci Kistler, but I would be intrested on some additional perspectives on the others. What do people think of Allegra Kent? I haven't heard much about her.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 16 August 2000 - 04:56 PM

We've talked about the dancers, Allegro, but not exactly in this way. It's an interesting way that you've phrased it. Do you know the book, "Conversations with the Muses"? I think that's one of the most interesting books about dancers that I've read.

I only saw Kent once, in La Sonnambula, and she was extraordinary. She was quite mature then, and the "kookiness" you can see in photos of her when she was younger was gone, but it was still a beautiful performance.

#3 Manhattnik

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Posted 16 August 2000 - 09:18 PM

Ah. Kent, in that role.

The way she'd just step over the Poet's supine body like he wasn't even there was chilling.

I've seen Kent take class and she looks as if she could return to the stage on a moment's notice.

#4 Allegro

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Posted 17 August 2000 - 01:06 PM

No, I have never read "Conversation with the Muses." I would like to, though. I guess I should look up this kind of topic on the archives. I saw Darci Kistler in La Sonnambula, and I loved the ballet at first sight. I think it is my favore Balanchine piece. But I would love to see Kent do it, if it is better.

#5 dirac

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Posted 17 August 2000 - 04:58 PM

Kent and Kistler were two of the dancers interviewed in Anne Belle's film, "Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas" and it contains footage of Kent coaching Kistler in the role. Kent has some interesting things to say about dancing La Sonnambula in her autobiography, "Once a Dancer..." also.

The book alexandra mentions is by Robert Tracy, and I think the complete title is "Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses". Obviously the alliteration has a powerful appeal.

#6 Drew

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Posted 17 August 2000 - 07:59 PM

I saw Allegra Kent just a couple of times. The performance I remember was in Agon, and she was mesmerizing. She danced the pas de deux with Bart Cook. Unfortunately, I do not remember clearly enough -- or have the vocabulary -- to convey what they did technically. I do remember seeing the same roles with Farrell and Martins a day or two later and thinking that Cook and Kent were somehow warmer; their dancing had more physical tension, even more emotion, thought it was not conveyed through "acting." I also loved the Farrell-Martins performance and I'd have to say that Farrell is one of my all time favorites. If a dancer can be said to have an influence on a fan, she is one of the dancers who really influenced me. Among dancers of a slightly earlier generation, too, Violette Verdy was wonderful, with great personal charm. Just the way she glanced across the stage with her eyes could be effective. Taking a longer view, though, there are all too many Balanchine muses I haven't seen. Photographs have made me particularly curious about both Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil Leclerc. I would also love to have seen the young Tamara Toumanova in the first version of Mozartiana! Admitedly, the "I would love to have seen..." can easily get out of control, but it intrigues me that Balanchine came back to that music several times and, at the end, specifically for Farrell in a ballet in which the ballerina is surrounded by girls about the age Toumanova was in 1933. I'm not suggesting some deep connection, but I am curious about that earlier version (or vision). And whatever impression one has of Toumanova's later career, by all accounts she was a gorgeous "baby" ballerina.

I think, too, that Balanchine's relation to the ideal of the ballerina-muse went even further than being inspired by great dancers. He seemed able to turn (almost) anyone into a muse if necessary. A different Balanchine-related thread on this board has mentioned some of the less innately gifted ballerinas with whom he worked including Kay Mazzo. But, of course, he created two of his greatest ballets for Mazzo -- Duo Concertante and Stravinsky Violin Concerto. And, in those ballets, he really used, brought out, or somehow invented, HER distinctive qualities. In fact, those two roles are arguably "about" a choreographer's relation to his ballerina. Karen Von Aroldingen is another example. Think of her role in Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertaenze. In that ballet, she plays, if you will, the more earthly muse figure while Farrell originated the more transcendent one, but I don't think you could say that Balanchine wasn't genuinely inspired by her. This may not be exactly what's meant by Balanchine's muses, and dancers like these aren't too many fans' favorites. But the kinds of roles he created for them are remarkable testimony to Balanchine's "internal" muse...

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited August 17, 2000).]

#7 dirac

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 12:37 AM

In "Conversations with the Muses" Melissa Hayden says approvingly of Balanchine that she respected his ability to get the job done. "He didn't sit around waiting for Terpsichore to inspire him," she said, or something like that. I've read several comments to the effect that, during festival time, he'd allow all the other choreographers to take first pick of the available dancers. Then he'd take whoever was left and come up with the best ballet. (I bet he probably enjoyed showing he could do it, too.)

#8 Guy Fletcher

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 07:29 AM

A performance I would have loved to attend is one described in Bernard Taper's Balanchine biography: In the 1930's Balanchine created the role of Nightingale in "Le Chant du Rossignol" for petite 14 yr old Alicia Markova, but on one occasion she was ill, and since noone knew the steps except for Balanchine, he stepped in to perform the role himself, much to the surprise of the Monte Carlo audience and the Princess of Monaco, who later remarked that Mr. Balanchine was very good but that she still preferred the little Markova girl.
I would have loved to see Markova perform, along with Tanaquil le Clerq and Alexandra Danilova. Could anyone who saw these dancers (whether live or on video) comment?

#9 Nanatchka

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 10:46 AM

Darci Kistler is the last of the Balanchine ballerinas, but was never a muse, pe se. That is,someone who inspired the work. By the time she came into the company, the muse days were pretty much over. Of course there were many, tucked in and around the marriages, or meta-marriages: to Tamara Geva, Danilova (never officially married), Vera Zorina (called Brigitte offstage), Tallchief, LeClerq. And Farrell, the never wife. The last great meta wife was Karin Von Aroldingen, Balanchine's last great consoler.
The great take over artists in the muse roles have been Maria Calegari, Kyra Nichols, Kistler, and some would say Maria Kowrowski. With them, you see (or saw) the originals floating behind. Terpsichorean pentimento.

#10 Helena

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 11:05 AM

Guy, when I was a child I saw Markova dance several times. She and her partner Anton Dolin toured Britain with the London Festival Ballet, which has evolved into the English National Ballet. At the time I lived in Wirral, near Liverpool, one of their regular stops. The occasion I remember best is when I was eleven, and I presented her with a bouquet on the very large stage of the Liverpool Empire. She had danced The Dying Swan, which I watched from the wings. As you can imagine, this was ballet heaven! People were very impressed and assumed I had been picked to represent my ballet school, but in fact I had simply written to the manager of the theatre and asked if I could do it. She was a tiny little dark-haired figure in the middle of that (to me) huge stage - I was nearly as tall as she was. I did my best end-of-class curtsey and revelled in every moment! She sent me a signed photo, personally addressed to me, which I still treasure. She must have been over 40 at the time, but she was perfact. To me she was essence of ballerina, and her Dying Swan was exactly what I expected it to be. I could have been watching Pavlova herself! Oh, and she kissed me. I didn't come down to earth for weeks.
I am sure other people will have better, more informed memories of her dancing, but I couldn't resist posting this! If only I still had the programmes from my childhood I would know exactly what I had seen. Don't ever throw away programmes!

#11 Guy Fletcher

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 01:21 PM

Wow that is such an inspiring story! Definitely something to pass on to the grandchildren. shame there isn't any video footage - thank goodness for people like you to pass on these treasured memories and images that would otherwise be forgotten.

#12 liebs

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Posted 18 August 2000 - 11:06 PM

Patricia McBride should certainly be considered one of Mr. B's muses. The wonderful parts he made for her in Rubies, Who Cares, Union Jack and Vienna Waltzes to name just a few. She also danced many of the greatest roles he created for others. Robbins was also very fond of her. A unique dancer with wonderful feet, a beautiful feet and a fabulous smile. She made you happy to just watch her.

#13 BethJ

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Posted 19 August 2000 - 05:12 PM

I just finished reading Francis Mason's I Remember Balachine which interviews most of the people that had significant contact with Balachine throughout his life. One of the points that was made by many of the the dancers interviewed was that Balanchine seemed to have to ability to know exactly what each dancer could do. He had an uncanny ability to pick out steps that they thought were impossible, but in the end proved to be perfect for the specific dancer. while Balanchine definitely had ceratin women that inspired him most, it almost seems that every dancer he choreographed for provided him with inspiration.

Another point that was reiterated throughout the book was that Balachine would often change steps within the roles if the ones that were there did not suit the dancer. Apparently several key parts were changed to accomodate Suzanne Farrell's bad knees!

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#14 Nikiya

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Posted 24 August 2000 - 07:46 PM

Maria Calegari was my teacher for a year. She and Bart Cook came and directed my school and they always talked about Balanchine. Until then I didn't really know who he was. I would agree, from what I have heard, that Ms. Calegari was one of his muses.

#15 Guy Fletcher

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Posted 25 August 2000 - 07:26 AM

Beth, what do you mean "Suzanne Farrell's bad knees"? what was wrong with them?


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