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Remembering Patricia McBride


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#16 Helene

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 08:43 AM

She's universally praised -- but oddly undervalued in some ways.

That kind of consistency is a curse. I remember that one of my father's common gripes was about how he'd hear Richard Tucker sing brilliantly, and the next day, the reviewer would give him one line at the end, a mention that he had sung typically well.

#17 sandik

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 11:31 AM

I'll have to try to remember where I read the Kirstein quote. It, too, may have been in "Dance as a Contact Sport". He may have been referring to the period when Farrell left NYCB, and Balanchine was bereft.


I remember this comment as well, and it was in reference to the post-Farrell NYCB. Don't think it was in the Mazo, but can't pin it down otherwise.

One of my big regrets is that I saw so little of McBride live. I know her best, really, through the parts that were made on her, as I see the Balanchine rep staged on other generations. And I agree, she was a phenomenal dancer.

#18 dirac

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 12:14 PM

Patricia McBride, who gained principal-dancer status a few years before Farrell, didn't become a star until just a few years ago. She didn't have Farrell's grandeur or silky, rippling flow of movement; she had a little, sticklike body which she has patiently taught to move deeply and expansively, 'in the round.' If Farrell was shy, McBride was shyer. Even today [1971], she is the shyest, most tenderly true, bravest, and least corruptible of classical dancers.


Croce was rather down on Farrell around then, of course, and I always thought in that particular article she was using McBride as a stick to beat the recently-departed Farrell with. One gets the impression at the time that she was quite optimistic about the ballerina prospects at the company in Farrell's wake – she’d be singing a different tune years later when Farrell came back......

#19 Jack Reed

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 12:59 PM

A version of this last concept, or pair of concepts, was that Balanchine's fascination with Farrell had led him uncharacteristically to neglect the development of other leading dancers, and that after her departure he returned to his more usual way, and their development flourished again; and for the same reason -- fascination with Farrell -- his choreographic spirits sank somewhat upon her departure, and so the repertory -- or at least the quality of the premieres -- and company morale, not to mention the box office, all suffered together. Farrell's return after several years seemed providential, perking up both Balanchine, who had grown past his personal fascination, and ticket sales as well, or, as a dancer whose name escapes me was supposed to have put it, "Suzanne's coming back is the best thing she's done for us since she left." papeetepatrick refers to this above, and I mention it again not to take away anything from McBride -- indeed, although the Kirstein remark sounds new to me, I can believe it, having begun to watch the company intensively early in 1973, while Farrell was away.

Personally, McBride had a lot to do with my pleasant addiction to ballet: Her characteristically sparkling performances in Rubies, based on music which had become a minor favorite of mine, with the characteristically powerful and considerate dancing of Villella, not to mention the astonishing soloist and corps parts in this ballet, following them as I could, note by note and phrase by phrase, riveted my attention.

There were moments in their partnership in this ballet which I have not seen copied -- not all bad, Balanchine's company dancing just far enough from correct (as Alexandra described it) as never to look like a copy of anything, not even of what they'd done the day before -- and which I still remember specifically: A moment in the last movement where she's standing still for a moment, downstage, in her pin-up pose, with one hand to the back of her head and the other to her hip, when Villella came barreling across the front. As he passed directly in front of her for an instant, she lowered and raised her head slightly, changing her pleasant expression to a more dubious one, as though to say, Ahem, you're upstaging me. Another witty detail, one of her own, apparently, making this ballet dazzle all the more.

But McBride didn't sparkle in everything. In the Night, as I recall, didn't call for that, but for other strengths, which, always appropriately, she brought to it, with her essential delicacy.

#20 bart

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 01:36 PM

dirac, I suspect you're right. Croce refers several times to what she called (in 1979) the "very dissimilar styles" of Farrell and McBride. Was it possible to talk about any ballerina in the context of NYCB without bringing up comparisons with Farrell? I wonder.

Here, for example, is Croce comparing McBride and Farrell in the Autumn section of Robbins' Four Seasons (1979). Robbins created slightly differing versions of the ballerina part for each dancer. I saw Farrell in this, not McBride. Did anyone see both? Or McBride alone?

Temperamentally and technically, the role of the ballerina suits Suzanne Farrell better than it does Patricia McBride. One might know that without seeing McBride do it. Seeing her, one might not know it. Robbins always composes felicitously for McBride; she has difficulty only with a few of the uncentered pirouettes that are a Farrell specialty, and she does chaines instead of the string of double soutenu turns that Farrell knows off. And she doesn't in Baryshnikov have the superbly sensitive partner that Farrell has in Martins.

Croce seems to fall into a routine when discussing McBride at length: praise McBride for her strengths, especially in her personal repertoire; compare her with Farrell, referencing a limitation or two; and then -- it seems inevitable -- drop her to focus exclusively on Farrell. The Farrell years were a tricky time to be a NYCB ballerina.

Here's a Croce observation from later in McBride's career: 1988, 29 years after her first NYCB performances. This essay, like the one in 1971, puts McBride in the context of Farrell and other Balanchine ballerinas. The unifying theme here is "dancer's who've had long careers." I've added paragraph breaks for easier reading.

Farrell is not alone in what she is still able to show of the accomplishments of a senior ballerina. Patricia McBride is right there beside her. McBride was never the company figurehead that Farrell was from the start, and she isn't responsible for so large and crucial a segment of the repertory, although she, too, has the incomparable advantage of special roles that Balanchine either tailored or retailord for her.

She is physically and stylistically unorthodox -- something that was less easy to see in the days when physical diversity among the ballerinas was more extreme than it is now -- and she has an unorthodox method of rendering her old parts: she secretes herself in a "through" current of energy and lets it (and a good partner) carry her. The method -- if that is what it is -- works, but compared with last year's Liebeslieder Walzer, the McBride of this year's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is noticeably more recessed.

McBride is a few years younger than Makarova [who had just retired] and a few years older than Farrell. Now that her technique is fraying, we see how deep her strength lies. It's the kind of strength that Balanchine relied on to shape the ballerina repertory. And as we watch McBride and Farrell maneuver inside their roles we see not only strength but the imagination that also played a part in the process. (**)


_______________________________

(*) Arlene Croce, "Other Verdi Variations," Going to the Dance, (1982)
(**) Arlene Croce, "Hard Facts," Writing in the Dark (2000)

#21 Jack Reed

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 01:51 PM

Thanks for the quotes, bart. I was just recalling some of that imagination in McBride's prime while you were posting. It was always there, when I was looking anyway, not just late on, as the quote might be taken to imply.

I think it wasn't responsible, even if it was possible, to think about NYCB without reference to Farrell, while she was there. It's not exactly that Farrell set the standard, but if anything, she happened to exemplify Balanchine's... approach. (I was going to say his philosophy.)

#22 bart

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 03:34 PM

A moment in the last movement where she's standing still for a moment, downstage, in her pin-up pose, with one hand to the back of her head and the other to her hip, when Villella came barreling across the front. As he passed directly in front of her for an instant, she lowered and raised her head slightly, changing her pleasant expression to a more dubious one, as though to say, Ahem, you're upstaging me. Another witty detail, one of her own, apparently, making this ballet dazzle all the more.

This kind of eye contact -- an awareness and appreciation of her partner even when, as it sometimes seems, they are dancing in their own personal groove -- is something I definitely remember.

Villella was from Queens. I had a teenage girl cousin from Queens who would have loved hanging out after dark and having a good time with Villella and his boys. (Elvis was more her fantasy type, or the world West Side Story, but I don't think she ever went to the ballet.)

The Rubies gang are kids existing in an urban world that's halfway between the innocence of teen street movies of the 40s and the darker, more dangerous side of being young in cities that were turning up in 60s films. There's carefree charm and attitude, but also a little bit of danger.

McBride dances alone at times, as does Villella. But with her, I always had a sense that she was in contact with her man. Establishing a relationship on stage -- especially in a plotless ballet -- isn't easy. It was one of McBride's strengths, I'd say.

#23 papeetepatrick

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 03:39 PM

Croce was rather down on Farrell around then, of course, and I always thought in that particular article she was using McBride as a stick to beat the recently-departed Farrell with.


I doubt it. Farrell didn't need to be 'beaten' as she'd only been herself, what happened was an 'it takes two to tango' matter; Farrell was listening to herself when she made her decisions. Croce was comparing them both favorably to each other, pointing out their different assets. And when I get the 'Writing in the Dark' collection, I'll quote what she says about the 'Liebeslieder Walzer' production, in which she again compares them, but this time onstage together, and says of Mcbride (I think this is the quote, but I have to wait) 'she is as fascinating as Farrell.' Of course she loved Farrell, who doesn't? but I think she compared them in the most intelligent way possible.

A moment in the last movement where she's standing still for a moment, downstage, in her pin-up pose, with one hand to the back of her head and the other to her hip, when Villella came barreling across the front. As he passed directly in front of her for an instant, she lowered and raised her head slightly, changing her pleasant expression to a more dubious one, as though to say, Ahem, you're upstaging me. Another witty detail, one of her own, apparently, making this ballet dazzle all the more.


That's an excellent example of her own brilliant relationship with her partners. She is always very overtly appreciative of them. That's part of her tremendous appeal to me.

Croce refers several times to what she called (in 1979) the "very dissimilar styles" of Farrell and McBride. Was it possible to talk about any ballerina in the context of NYCB without bringing up comparisons with Farrell? I wonder.


No, but it was the obvious dissimilarity that made her capable of appreciating both quite unreservedly IMO. The fact that they were so dissimilar is what made them the greatest two ballerinas dancing for Balanchine during some years, even though Farrell had the bigger profile, and Croce is right about 'Farrell's grandeur'. But her partners are servants to a great degree. What Jack writes about McBride and Villella is a kind of interaction with the male partner I never saw with Suzanne and any of her partners (nor should it have been, she was something more of a 'sacred object'. )

she secretes herself in a "through" current of energy and lets it (and a good partner) carry her. The method -- if that is what it is -- works, but compared with last year's Liebeslieder Walzer, the McBride of this year's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is noticeably more recessed.


This is superlative, the use of the word 'secretes', and I think is the key to understanding what McBride always did. Now that is inspired, because McBride always had a way of 'secreting'. She never didn't have a sense of secreting, and that is something of what bart and i were discussing some months back about her 'quiet inaccessiblity'. Farrell and McBride both 'secreted' (just love that as a verb) themselves, but, here again, in dissimilar ways. Patty smiles, and very naturally, a lot more than Suzanne ever does.

McBride is a few years younger than Makarova [who had just retired] and a few years older than Farrell. Now that her technique is fraying, we see how deep her strength lies. It's the kind of strength that Balanchine relied on to shape the ballerina repertory. And as we watch McBride and Farrell maneuver inside their roles we see not only strength but the imagination that also played a part in the process. (**)


Again, Croce here (at least) just can't keep her eyes off either of them (and I never could either.)

Thanks for the quotes, bart. I was just recalling some of that imagination in McBride's prime while you were posting. It was always there, when I was looking anyway, not just late on, as the quote might be taken to imply.

I think it wasn't responsible, even if it was possible, to think about NYCB without reference to Farrell, while she was there. It's not exactly that Farrell set the standard, but if anything, she happened to exemplify Balanchine's... approach. (I was going to say his philosophy.)


I don't think Farrell exemplified Balanchine's approach or 'philosophy' in the purest sense that he defined it verbally, most likely McBride did this. What Farrell did was to take it beyond what he provided her with explicitly, and he knew that she was going ahead and producing some of the work herself that was not purely his own, but he was in love with it more than anyone else's, and so therefore she had a degree of freedom to, perhaps, 'choreograph' within his choreography more than any other ballerina. That was part of Croce's 'grandeur of Farrell'. Sure, everybody knows she had that.

#24 bart

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 03:54 PM

That's an excellent example of her own brilliant relationship with her partners. She is always very overtly appreciative of them. That's part of her tremendous appeal to me.

Patrick, we were both posting at the same time, so I ended up making the identical point.

McBride seems to be one of those celebrated dancers whose career -- the partners, the roles, the performances, the impressions she made on people -- must now be patched together from bits and pieces from reviews, memoirs, etc.

For example, I just came across a brief reference to her guesting for Todd Bolender at the Kansas City Ballet in 1981. Her partner: Alexander Gudonov. :wink: :D They danced pas de deux from Giselle and Corsaire. Wouldn't you have loved to see THAT performance. :P

#25 papeetepatrick

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 04:11 PM

For example, I just came across a brief reference to her guesting for Todd Bolender at the Kansas City Ballet in 1981. Her partner: Alexander Gudonov. :wink: :D They danced pas de deux from Giselle and Corsaire. Wouldn't you have loved to see THAT performance. :P


More than you'll ever know... :D

#26 dirac

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 05:48 PM

I think it wasn't responsible, even if it was possible, to think about NYCB without reference to Farrell, while she was there. It's not exactly that Farrell set the standard, but if anything, she happened to exemplify Balanchine's... approach. (I was going to say his philosophy.)


You could say that Balanchine chose Farrell to set that standard and exemplify his approach. Which is not to take anything from McBride, but she didn’t hold that kind of symbolic role in the company or the Balanchine repertory, as important as she was to both.

McBride was Edward Gorey's favorite ballerina.

#27 bart

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 01:03 PM

I didn't know that about Gorey. It's great to hear and I'd love to learn the reason why. She's so different from the stick-thin, neurasthenic, slightly demented ballet women that he often drew!

http://storyculture....y_ballerina.jpg

Robert Garis's detailed and very personal book, Following Balanchine, is interesting on the the period when Farrell was competing with stage time and audience attention with other ballerinas who had established themselves either earlier or about the same time. This was right about the time of Jewels, 1967.

If Farrell was the ballerina, Verdy, Paul, and McBride were firmly identified as principal ballerinas as well, and the differences between the four were accentuated and made exciting.

"Emeralds" was Verdy and Paul; "Rubies" was McBride; "Diamonds" was Farrell. There was something for everyone, since each of these ballerinas had her own loyalist fan base in those days. (I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).

It was later that "Farrellitis" set in and began affecting company morale. According to reports, Paul and Verdy seriously considered leaving. Did McBride ever think of leaving, I wonder? Somehow I imagine her as just braving through, and taking solace in were own special Balanchine ballets, where Farrell could not hope to compete.

It was after THIS that Balanchine created Swanilda for McBride. Here's Garis on the early performances of Coppelia. I've put a couple of key phrases in bold-face because I think they reflect some of the difficulties that we had/have in remember and categorizing McBride.:

{ ... ] above all shone McBride's performance. Coppelia carried on my education in her dancing, which I had experienced some trouble bringing into focus.. I had found her splendidly clear and strong in A Midsummer Night's Dream and in Hayden's roles in Liebeslieder Walzer and Allegro Brillante, but she stayed just outside the circle of my special interest until I felt her nervous power in "rubies." Her nonrhetorical eloquence in "The Man I Love" from Who Cares? was becoming a deeper experience the more I saw it: it defined and explored a whole new area of dancing for me, and I saw beyond her terrific competence to something more individual. But it was, in fact, not her individuallity but her lucid and vivid normalcy that made her the right vehicle for what Balanchine was exploring in Cooppelia -- the relation between mechanical movement and natural movement; the discipline of clasic ballet; the relation between dancer and chroeographer.



Garis has an epiphany at the moment when she, "as a flesh-and-blood Swanilda pretending to be the doll Coppelia, pretended to come to life to an oboe melody that resembled a Bellini aria." But the ephiphany is not really about McBride, although she triggers it. Garis finds himself, as he watches the dancing and interactions between Coppelius and Swanilda, thinking about parallels: Coppelius and his dolls; Pygmalion and Galatea; Frankenstein with his monster, a chain of thought that leads him to .... (surprise !) .... Balanchine with Farrell."

It's the same pattern we've seen before: even among those who adore McBride, somehow we tendss to end up with musings about Farrell.

#28 papeetepatrick

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 02:36 PM

(I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).


Not for me, I have always been a huge fan of all three, more Farrell and McBride probably because I saw them both a lot more--although my few memories of Verdy in the 70s were thrillling. But usually so, I'd imagine, as you say, because fans love to compare much more than I think is necessary. Or, if they compare, I wish they could consider loving all the 'comparees' a bit more, because only then can you see it as the artists themselves do. Balanchine loved Farrell the most, but look who used all the others so well too--he wasn't really 'comparing', just being profession most of the time, resopnding to his desires and emotions at others. He didn't spend all of his time on Farrell, just was more obsessed with her and made more ballets for her.

It's the same pattern we've seen before: even among those who adore McBride, somehow we tendss to end up with musings about Farrell.


Not nearly always. I expect many people to do it, but I started out as more of a fan of Farrell, and still am a big fan. But if I have to choose between the two, McBride wins for me. I only found that out recently, but it's set by now. The special gift of her happiness and her delight in her male partners is much more my idea of sexiness and sensuality by now than a 'worshipped goddess'. I used to be a LOT more into diva worship than I am now. Diva worship is mostly a camp affair to me at this point. So by now, I only compare them because everybody else is always talking about Farrell no matter what, and that has to be dealt with. I wouldn't say that if she weren't one of the most important ballerinas in my ballet-going life, but she's not my favourite anymore. I do not agree that one always has to talk about Farrell when you're talking about Balanchine in those years; you have to do it a LOT of the time, but not all the time. The Farrell Myth frankly detracts from the great dancer Farrell was.

And so, while it is appropriate that Jewels leads to the top of the hierarchy with Farrell in 'Diamonds', YES, the hierarchy is set in THAT BALLET as Suzanne as apotheosis and pinnacle, but that does not take into account all the other pieces in the repertory, or the subjective feeling we eventually define as the one that means the most to us, in dancers (or any kinds of performers or creative artists), if they are up on a comparable technical and artistic level. In terms of reputation, Farrell is probably at the very top of the Balanchine hierarchy of ballerinas in most people's minds, even when they look back to stars of the 40s and 50s, but McBride and Verdy are, as you say, many people's favourite ballerinas, and, face it, that is what the balletgoer cares most about, who he/she loves most. We are not mostly concerned with the external, with the facade of the WHOLE New York City Ballet apparatus and edifice as it is erected in some kind of inner hallucination for us. We look at a lot of work, and decide 'that means the most to me for reasons I can point to.' And we are all the better equpped to do this when it is a matter of performers who are on an already very high level. That's why Croce kept looking back and forth, one to the other. It could be that, as a man, I am ultimately attacted to McBride's feminine charms in her dancing than I am to Farrell's 'goddess qualities'. I don't tend to worship people, even great artists. And don't think I don't know Farrell is a great artist, I do. Just, in a sense, 'not my type'. I prefer women who let men be as much a part of the action as they are, and you always get that with McBride--always.

#29 kfw

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 03:40 PM

McBride was Edward Gorey's favorite ballerina.

I found a few references to her in an article by Anna Kisselgoff in the Times on 11/13/73, collected in Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey.

After seventeen years of nightly viewing, he can visualize the entire repertory, he says, "like a movie in my head." "I can see everyone doing everything now," he adds. "I have now reached the point where I can see Patty McBride doing every ballet, even those she hasn't danced."

And later

Mr.Gorey can remember when his favorite dancer, Patricia McBride, first stepped into the role of one of the bourgeois waltzing ladies in Balanchine's Liebeslider Walzer. She was, he said, "like a governess who had been invited because someone else didn't show up. Now she's the grandest."

Elsewhere in the book, in an inteview with Tobi Tobias in Dance Magazine, 1974, he says

Well, currently, Patty McBride is surely the greatest dancer in the world. Of course, my favorite dancer of all time is Diana Adams . . ."



#30 bart

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 04:36 PM

(I don't think that the fan groups overlapped very much, at least not for McBride, Verdy, and Farrell).


Not for me, I have always been a huge fan of all three, more Farrell and McBride probably because I saw them both a lot more

I shouldn't have put it that way, Patrick. I guess I was thinking of "FANS ! :wallbash: :angry2: " as we see them today in certain quarters and as you refer to as "diva worship." They were once very prominent in opera, less so in ballet. But they were there. I'm going to try to find out how to draw a line through that silly statement. I've seen it done occasionally on BT and it's a good idea when we have second thoughts.

Balanchine loved Farrell the most, but look who used all the others so well too--he wasn't really 'comparing', just being profession most of the time, responding to his desires and emotions at others. He didn't spend all of his time on Farrell, just was more obsessed with her and made more ballets for her.

This has the ring of truth to me. I would love to hear how other NYCB history people feel about it. Especially the "he wasn't really 'comparing'" part.

The Farrell Myth frankly detracts from the great dancer Farrell was.

I REALLY want to hear what people have to say about this. As before, it has a ring of truth. "Myth" -- for me at least -- enriches reality but also distracts us from it. I agree that the serious fan looks at the whole company -- and focuses on the works and how they're performed. If we love X and detest Y it adds spice, but, speaking only for myself, it's not what makes ballet so important to me.

Thanks, kfw, for finding that article. I note that Gorey could never get over Diana Adams. I'll bet Adams was one of the first ballerinas he saw when he realized how important ballet (NYCB) was to him. We tend to remember the dancer(s) who made the first big impression on us when we were novices.

Adams is certainly a candidate for our next "remembering" thread, :( But even I have only the dimmest memories. Agon with Arthur Mitchell is one, but frankly it was the work -- and the bi-racial casting -- that bowled me over at the time. I knew they were dancing well, but I had no idea how well because I had (literally) nothing to compare this choreography to.


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