Remembering Patricia McBride
Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:49 AM
McBride is often remembered as the fast, cheerful, lighthearted, witty face of Balanchine: her Swanhilda and her role in Rubies being the most celebrated examples for many. They're among the 3 or 4 roles she "owned" at NYCB. But her range was greater than that.
I'll never forget her in Dances at a Gathering and In the Night. (I was thrilled to read that Robbins actually was inspired to begin imagining Dances by observing McBride and Villella working together, intimately and with great concentration, in a studio.)
Others must have memories of their own about this marvelous dancer. Unfortunately, there isn't much on dvd to record her performances. So your memories become even more important. Please share them HERE.
To begin, here are a few photos of McBride in her signature NYCB roles:
And here's a recent photo. Looking pretty good!
(*) From Choreography by Balanchine, New York City Ballet, Dance in America, 1977 (Nonesuch dvd). McBride and Baryshnikov also dance Steadfast Tin Soldier on this disk.
Posted 18 July 2009 - 10:22 AM
WOW! does she ever! GORGEOUS! One of the great smiles in history! Thanks for starting this, bart.
Yes, I am totally devoted to this dancer, she is my all-time favourite. I like her even better than the men.
Will say more, and hopefully less giddy, later. I meantime, have to get over that ANYONE could age that well.
Posted 18 July 2009 - 02:38 PM
Posted 18 July 2009 - 04:44 PM
If anyone else remembers some of these old Croce quotes before I get the books. please go ahead and share them here!
Posted 18 July 2009 - 06:21 PM
There was a sweetness about her dancing, too, and there was always more there than the steps. The last season I saw her dance with the company, just a year or two after Balanchine's death, I remember thinking that she looked like a guest artist in her own company. She was dancing in what they'd call now Balanchine Style -- wild arms, and a sweet joy. Everyone else was dancing correctly.
Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:06 PM
Lincoln Kirstein credited her with saving the company. Joseph Mazo, in "Dance as a Contact Sport", described her extraordinary energy and stamina, letting out a little whoosh of breath backstage after an enormously difficult variation, and heading back out again, while her fellow dancers were doubled over, completely out of breath.
Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:59 PM
Are you speaking of when some of the other dancers were upset with the extreme attention Balanchine was giving Farrell? Only a guess, but I imagine she wouldn't have let it phase her much personally, although others did--I believe Hayden and Tallchief said things about this, and I think Kent as well. I'm just guessing still, though, so if you can (although not necessary to open that up too much as it's been discussed ad infinitum in many other threads), could you be more specific about how she 'saved the company', as I've not heard that before. It would come as little surprise that she'd be able to.
And you see that very strikingly in the Villella film, especially in contrast to the even more than usual extreme agony he was suffering throughout. She is quietly supportive of him throughout IMO.
I thought this in that period too, but I'm not sure it was exactly what you're talking about, I remember not only 'Liebeslieder' during that period and also the Peter Martins piece (a sweet, simple piece, maybe the only piece by him I really like), either 'Valse Triste' or something close, I believe to music by Sibelius. Do you remember this piece, Helene? I don't know if it's still done. I never saw her do 'La Valse', although I would have liked to, even though that one is pretty firmly imprinted on my mind as being an ultimate Farrell role.
Alexandra, I saw her Swanilda in 1987, and even at that late date, the technique, strength and speed were still like some force of nature. The 'wild arm Balanchine style' may have been there in some of the dancing at the time, but I mostly recall that perfect precision that was always one of her hallmarks. 'Amazing technique' is definitely the term, though, I'd agree. Close to flawless most of the time.
Posted 18 July 2009 - 10:44 PM
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.
Posted 19 July 2009 - 03:58 AM
Yes, she has aged well---and that photo does not do her justice. During the summer I usually go to the Chautauqua Institution for a couple of weeks and she and her husband are in charge of the dance program. One of my happiest days there was sitting in on an afternoon rehearsal (in a 5,000 seat empty theatre) and watching her teach a variation to a young dancer. She also became a grandma this year.
Posted 19 July 2009 - 06:07 AM
Posted 19 July 2009 - 06:31 AM
Oh ha ha, I knew you weren't. In fact, I like some of the 'wild arms', especially in that Farrell performance of 'La Valse', I just had never associated it with McBride, and maybe didn't see the particular performances where that would have been more pronounced. I defintiely think 'sweetness' is something that always comes across in her dancing too. I would have never objected to the 'wild arms' with McBride either, I always just thought she was too fast to have time to do them, especially as Swanilda!
Helene, thanks. I saw her do 'Valse Triste' several times with Ib Anderson in the mid- and late-80s, and always thought it had such a bittersweet, melancholy air to it.
Posted 19 July 2009 - 06:58 AM
I hate to admit this, but McBride's consistency, her ability to dance almost everything at a high level, had -- perversely -- the effect of making me not look as closely as I might. That is why I regret so much the small size of her available video legacy.
Here are some of Croce's comments, taken from the 1971 essay "Balanchine's Girls" (originally published in Harper's Magazine, reprinted in the collection, After-Images, which Patrick has mentioned):
I'll start the way Croce does, juxtaposing McBride to Farrell:
And here's Croce on Dances at a Gathering, the first ballet where I woke up and suddenly took notice of someone who was clearly a real artist. In the absence of readily available video, hwe need wonderful word-pictures like Croce's.
Later on, she is facing Anthony Blum in a supported pose far to the side of the stage. The "storm" in the Chopin scherzo .... suddenly returns, breaks into their idyll but doesn't break it up. The hold the pose, and she holds the dramatic focus alone, for a ponderably long movement, while the music pounds them both. McBride always had presence; now she has authority too, the kind an audience silently appeals to. It's the mark of a true ballerina.
Croce takes you through quite a variety of different roles -- In the Night, Girl in White in La Valse, Rubies, "Man I love" in Who Cares?, Columbine in Harlequinade, Hermia in Midsummer Night's Dream. She concludes that McBride, by not acting, became a spontaneous and intuitive dramatic actress, creating characters even in unplotted work
A thought on Swanhilda. I don't know if McBride was involved Miami City Ballet's production of Coppelia, but each of the Swanhildas presented themselves with a definite "McBride" style and personality. They did so beautifully. It was quite uncanny ... and absolutely "right."
Posted 19 July 2009 - 07:40 AM
They suited her. They suited the work -- she probably wouldn't have done them in "Coppelia," come to think of it. I only saw that very early in my balletgoing, and I don't remember, sad to say.
Posted 19 July 2009 - 08:23 AM
I loved the following vignette. They're rehearsing the Divertissement from Baiser de la Fee. It's 1973.:
I remember lots of stories along this line. I wonder whether this image hasn't actually worked against McBride. People often saw her as such a phenomenon of energy and strength that they unconsciously didn't take her achievements as seriously as they might. She's universally praised -- but oddly undervalued in some ways. (Note that Croce, in the earlier quotation, is quite aware that McBride had to work hard to achieve that strength.)
Another factor that may play into this "undervaluing," if such indeed was the case, was that McBride danced so well with her male partners, and responded to them so wonderfully. That means that she is often remembered in the context of "Villella and McBride," "McBride and Tomasson," rather than for her own sake.
Posted 19 July 2009 - 08:42 AM
I've been thinking about that quite a bit too, all this that you say is right on the money. It's as though it you are always reliable and consistent--even if it's anything but the 'foolish consistency'--you aren't showing the, for lack of a better term, the 'human dimension of mistake and error'. But this itself is, of course, erroneous, since always (or almost always) dancing on a supremely high level is hardly a fault. Of course, if someone needs to fall from time to time, to break the ice and get over nerves or whatever that's for, that's legit too. But I agree that this will make her undervalued in some eyes. She just found it comfortable 'way up there' like that. I think 'sticklike' is a little extreme btw, but works as a textual strategy, as it were, when placed next to Croce's extraordinary paean to Patty's 'incorruptibility' and the rest, especially like that about the 'shyness'.
In that case, though, the perceivers and observers really do miss, because a female partnering of the man is just as important when it's well-done--in fact, if it is that well-done, and I certainly think hers is very sensitive indeed, it is all the more reason to celebrate yet another special gift. Also, she never tried to oversell her 'value' either: talk of 'egoless ballerinas' may apply to her more than almost any, and due in great part to her sensitivity to the man. She LOVES them! and that's just adorable. And you never see that more than in the 'Tchai Pas de Deux', she is delighted with dancing with Baryshnikov, and she's not the least bit ashamed to show it! Since Balanchine's male dancers were often thought of as more partner for the ballerina (at least in the sense of major duty--Peter Martins had no illusions that Balanchine was interested in him at first more for being the right tall partner for Suzanne than for any of his other talents, this is in 'Far from Denmark') than vice-versa, this is part of her own independence perhaps? but a very non-flamboyant self-possession, I always keep coming back to the fact that she never tried to draw attention to herself--it just happens naturally.
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