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Jacques D'Amboise: Memoirs"I Was a Dancer"


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#76 dirac

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 04:17 PM

I'd like to know more about what you mean by these purist critics and why they didn't mention Hayden much and with much respect


Sometimes a Number Two is just that, I guess, especially when the competition is so fierce. It speaks well for Hayden's devotion and determination that she stayed loyal and I think in the end Balanchine did reward her for it. Reading about her is one of the most enjoyable aspects of d'Amboise's book.

#77 bart

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 05:13 PM

Re the "purist critics": I imade up that phrase while posting. In retrospect, I think it has a point. If you read the ballet criticism of the late 50s and the 60s, the three critics I mentioned seem to stand apart from more conventional reviewers like Martin. It seems sometimes that "Denby begat Haggins begat Garis." They took ballet the way some people take religion, idealizing certain Balanchine works and -- as time went on -- almost falling in love with certain ballerinas to the exclusion of almost everyone else. Denby got the ball rolling with his passionate belief that ballet could become -- with certain choreographers and dancers -- an art comparable with the Highest forms of human expression. Haggin, later in life, was something of a Farrell fanatic.. Garis was especially obsessed with Verdy. Hayden, coming from a different schooling and dance tradition, didn't fit into this idealized aesthetic, for reasons that other posters have mentioned.

About Farrell -- My sense is that d'Amboise lack of attention to her is a reflection of the real distress that NYCB dancers felt at the time when she was Balanchine's favorite and, consequently, was dancing almost everything, almost all the time. You will find, I suspect, respect but not fondness for Farrell among her colleagues even today -- for a variety of reasons.

There were more than a few audience members who felt the same way. It may be hard to believe, but Farrell's prominence did NOT provoke universal joy. . It was hard not to notice the downplaying of the other female principals (many of them our favorite dancers). When faced with Farrell in multiple ballets almost every night, there were those who responded:: "What !! Farrell is dancing AGAIN ???

This was not to deny Farrell's genius as a dancer. It's just that, before Farrell became "Farrell," Balanchine works were danced with a variety of accents. With the passage of time, however, critics convinced us that Farrell's way was a kind of ultimate expression. Croce played a role in advancing this idea. D'Amboise, I suspect, still has not swallowed it.

#78 papeetepatrick

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 07:03 PM

All these comments are very illuminating, full of vitality. I am interested in bart's and Quiggin's talk of these specific critics, and find that Quiggin's putting Denby's after Garis's is esp. revealing: Denby's I find the kind of written assessmentthat really means something, he talks about Tallchief being better at allegro than adagio, about Hayden as having several specific interesting qualities, including some she hasn't yet developed (will be a 'great actress' when she learns 'calm'). I even adored his thoroughly dated archaism "Her New York elegance of person' about Leclerq, which hurls you back to the 50s in the way a movie like 'I Can Get It for You Wholesale' does--which is to say, in a pleasurable way. I've never gone for this 'Tallchief and Leclerq are supreme' sort of business. Some dated things are better than other dated things. Denby's "Wilde has a beautiful Veronese grandeur and plasticity of sharpe in her dancing, a glorious jump" is simply wonderful writing, I wouldn't mind hearing it more today. To me, the two you put together (the second which omits only Mouncey) are like night and day--the Garis is barren and supercilious, and the Denby abundant, but not too gushing. Of course, you both know the rest of what they wrote, and I don't, so I'm just responding to Quiggin's juxtaposing those two. Also like bart's remark on Croce, yes, I can pick up some of that sometimes, I think I remember that 'Diamonds' she once said to suggest 'the freest woman in the world'. Well, okay, although that's getting up in that slightly de trop area, I may stick with 'Adams's ravishing figure', which was lovely to hear, frankly. If they're going to talk about the too-plumpness, let them also feel free to indulge in a little enjoyment of lushness.

Quiggin, thanks for the remarks SFarrellBallet. I don't know how long they'll be at the Joyce, but I'm sure I'll want to go, and although there won't be more than three programs to choose from, I imagine, they'll probably all have to be relatively small there. I sort of like the idea of her reading the program notes beforehand, she's clearly very eccentric in a singular way.

#79 dirac

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 08:44 PM

About Farrell -- My sense is that d'Amboise lack of attention to her is a reflection of the real distress that NYCB dancers felt at the time when she was Balanchine's favorite and, consequently, was dancing almost everything, almost all the time. You will find, I suspect, respect but not fondness for Farrell among her colleagues even today -- for a variety of reasons.


Oh, he gives her attention, all right. :) It's just unfriendlier than I expected. Yes, I'm well aware that Farrell was/is a controversial dancer.

#80 dirac

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 08:54 PM

Haggin, later in life, was something of a Farrell fanatic. Garis was especially obsessed with Verdy.


I believe Haggin was the great Verdy admirer, although Garis was also a fan and friend. Both men were in the Farrell camp.

#81 Helene

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 10:33 PM

I had never read before that that Farrell asked for a power-sharing arrangement. The only thing I read was that she wanted to coach dancers in the ballets that had been created for her, and that Martins refused. What d'Amboise describes is a different story, a direct challenge to the position to which he had been chosen and appointed by the board.

In the late 40's through the early 50's, almost every Balanchine premiere went to Nicholas Magallanes, Francisco Moncion, or Andre Eglevsky. Beginning in 1954 until Farrell became prominent with "Movements for Orchestra", d'Amboise created roles in "Western Symphony", "Ivesiana", "Gounod Symphony", "Stars and Stripes", "The Figure in the Carpet", "Monumentum pro Gesualdo", "Episodes", "Electronics" (yikes), and 'Raymonda Variations". He was also originally cast for "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" with Diana Adams until her injury, and she was the original for "Movements for Orchestra". He had already established himself as the go-to partner for Adams, LeClerq before her illness, and Hayden.

He premiered four roles with Farrell from "Movements" until she left -- "Meditation", the revival of "Ballet Imperial", "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet", and "Diamonds", two while she was away, "Who Cares?" and "Cortege Hongrois", and one after she returned, "Davidsbundlertanze". (They were both in "Union Jack", but not with each other, and everyone who could walk was in "Union Jack".)

Certainly as he matured, his stock rose, but he was well-established, with stronger roles in several more important ballets than he premiered with Farrell. Surely his stock rose like any other tall dancer amidst tall women, because, unlike Villella, he could partner them. He also describes how Balanchine wanted him to be the young Darci Kistler's partner in "Swan Lake", which he felt he was no longer up to, but offered to teach her the pas de deux.

I think there's quite a difference between an interview in "Elusive Muse", where the subject was Farrell, and a memoir in which he went back to decades of notes and diaries that reflected his opinion and state of mind at the time. (The descriptions of Farrell's ultimatum was narrative, but he quotes from a diary entry from the day after recording his conversation with Farrell.) The various Balanchine companies and enterprises had already gone through bouts of Balanchine's obsession with other ballerinas, but after NYCB became a big institution, he never gave the kind of power to any of the others that he did Farrell, and his obsession with her affected far many more people.

In his description of the conversations he had with Balanchine after returning from staging "Mediation" for Farrell and Jorge Donn in Brussels, he raved about her to Balanchine, and he was willing to serve as a go-between, which he really didn't have to do, if he didn't respect her as an artist and person. (I also never had read before that d'Amboise was at the re-conciliation meeting with Balanchine, Farrell, and Mejia.)

#82 SandyMcKean

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 05:18 AM

Three cheers for Helene and Jacques........

To Helene for her clarity, objectiveness, and historical knowledge......

To Jacques for his openness, creativity, generosity, and courage to exposure his inner thoughts (apparently without fear of nibbling criticism)........

#83 dirac

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 09:23 AM

I had never read before that that Farrell asked for a power-sharing arrangement. The only thing I read was that she wanted to coach dancers in the ballets that had been created for her, and that Martins refused. What d'Amboise describes is a different story, a direct challenge to the position to which he had been chosen and appointed by the board.



I don’t know what to tell you, Helene. That’s what I read somewhere, so what he said wasn’t really a surprise to me. I don’t take quite the same view of it you do, although I understand Martins’ position, at least what I know of it, but that ‘s going beyond the bounds of this thread.

Again, I was referring to Villella’s comment in his book about the d’Amboise’s partnership with Farrell and that he felt d’Amboise’s stock was rising in the company as a result. I am aware of d’Amboise’s CV.

I think there's quite a difference between an interview in "Elusive Muse", where the subject was Farrell, and a memoir in which he went back to decades of notes and diaries that reflected his opinion and state of mind at the time. (The descriptions of Farrell's ultimatum was narrative, but he quotes from a diary entry from the day after recording his conversation with Farrell.) The various Balanchine companies and enterprises had already gone through bouts of Balanchine's obsession with other ballerinas, but after NYCB became a big institution, he never gave the kind of power to any of the others that he did Farrell, and his obsession with her affected far many more people.


I never brought up “Elusive Muse,” someone else did. No, I’d not expect him to dish on Farrell in a documentary devoted to her story. Farrell did indeed break the mold.

In his description of the conversations he had with Balanchine after returning from staging "Mediation" for Farrell and Jorge Donn in Brussels, he raved about her to Balanchine, and he was willing to serve as a go-between, which he really didn't have to do, if he didn't respect her as an artist and person.



As I noted earlier, d’Amboise praises her dancing in his book. Yes, he came back from Brussels and told Balanchine she was in great shape (Farrell reported this herself in her book, also). He also notes that Bejart “caters” to Farrell, notes that her poster is all over Brussels, etc....

All I said was that d’Amboise was consistently unflattering in his portrayal of Farrell personally, which will be plain to any reader, that it was lacking in some context, and that I was surprised some of it was coming from an ex-partner for whom she’s had nothing but good things to say for public consumption. And by me it’s a little tacky, even though as I also said earlier, candor is one of the things we read these books for. Sorry to have to repeat myself, but it all seems to have got lost in the shuffle.

One tidbit I hadn't heard before was that John Taras promoted Farrell as Adams' understudy for Movements. Not surprising, since she'd danced for him in Arcade, but that was news to me.

#84 Helene

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 09:36 AM

He also notes that Bejart “caters” to Farrell, notes that her poster is all over Brussels, etc....

Which was quite unexpected, given Bejart's emphasis on men until then and then after Farrell.

All I said was that d’Amboise was consistently unflattering in his portrayal of Farrell personally, which will be plain to any reader, that it was lacking in some context, and that I was surprised some of it was coming from an ex-partner for whom she’s had nothing but good things to say for public consumption. And by me it’s a little tacky, even though as I also said earlier, candor is one of the things we read these books for. Sorry to have to repeat myself, but it all seems to have got lost in the shuffle.

For me the context was all there, and I don't think that he was obligated to be flattering to Farrell personally -- his enthusiasm in "Elusive Muse" and elsewhere was about her dancing, personal beauty, and commitment to dance, not about her personality -- or that it was tacky in any way, so I'll agree to disagree. There are plenty of unequal relationships around, which I was reminded of yesterday re-watching Altman's "3 Women".

His characterizations came as little surprise to me, given how enthusiastically catty and snarky he's been in other contexts, like "Elusive Muse".

#85 dirac

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 10:08 AM

For me the context was all there, and I don't think that he was obligated to be flattering to Farrell personally -- his enthusiasm in "Elusive Muse" and elsewhere was about her dancing, personal beauty, and commitment to dance, not about her personality -- or that it was tacky in any way, so I'll agree to disagree.


Yes, we'll have to agree to disagree. I already explained what I meant by lack of context, and I never said that he was obligated to be flattering, only that I was surprised by the lack of balance in the portrayal by a friend and partner. Your mileage varies, obviously.

#86 bart

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 11:27 AM

Haggin, later in life, was something of a Farrell fanatic. Garis was especially obsessed with Verdy.


I believe Haggin was the great Verdy admirer, although Garis was also a fan and friend. Both men were in the Farrell camp.

I've gone back to Haggin's Ballet Chronicles, and you are right, dirac. Verdy is the great muse . (Of course, this book was published in 1970, which was relatively earlier in Farrell's career than in Verdy's.)

Patrick, since we share (with each other and with Jacques d'Amboise) a fondness for Melissa Hayden's dancing, I thought I might call your attention to something Haggin wrote back in 1965. Apparently, the critics of the Times and Herald Tribune had been complaining that NYCB's refusal to post cast lists before performances meant that people who wanted to see Hayden often were disappointed in having to watch, instead, Suzanne Farrell. :smilie_mondieu:

Hayden is a very efficient dancer, but -- lacking the exquisiteness of changing bodily configuration, the poetic aura that one can see Fonteyn's dancing has -- Hayden is not what one can see Fonteyn is, a ballerina. And for anyone who judges not by names and words but by what he sees, the "inexperienced young dancers" Mimni Paul and Suzanne Farrell whom the company has been offering occasionally in place of Hayden are not only amazingly strong in technique but equally amazing in the qualities of exquisite style and poetry that make them more fascinating to watch than Hayden. But I agree that is should be possible for anyone who prefers Hayden to Paul or Farrell to see Hayden.

Within a few years, of course, standards changed, and so did casting. "Exquisiteness of changing bodily configurations" and "poetic aura" became the new aesthetic ideal, and Farrell became its priestess. Dancers who expressed themselves differently, or whose body types were different, went out of fashion, fairly or unfairly.

#87 canbelto

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 11:30 AM

About Suzanne Farrell, I think it's an example of the enduring power and loyalty of Balanchine's dancers that they generally took his "side" and decided to blame her instead for the very unhappy situation before she left the company. d'Amboise's comments just come as a surprise because they were partners for so long, that one would think he would feel some loyalty towards Suzanne too, and see the difficult situation Balanchine created for the entire company, and that he wasn't helping matters either. But I suppose his loyalty towards Balanchine, a feel unflattering stories aside, is very great indeed.

I suppose this is getting OT but in my personal experience relationships between extremely young women and much older men tend to have a strong element of manipulation to them, and that is what d'Amboise emphasizes in the book. It's not even conscious manipulation, but the instinctive manipulation of someone who's very young and very good looking who knows that he has an older, insecure man wrapped around her little finger.

#88 dirac

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 11:58 AM

Hi, canbelto. That's certainly how d’Amboise presents the matter and it’s partially true (although I question the “insecure” part). In the case of Balanchine and Farrell the power really only went one way – she had as much power as Balanchine chose to allow her and when the crunch came it was clear where the real clout was. And by the same token Balanchine was not only Farrell’s revered boss, but one who did his best to exploit his own position to keep an unworldly girl virtually under lock and key. By 1969 almost everyone in Farrell’s life – Balanchine, her mother, even company management to some extent – was making every effort to push her into Balanchine’s bed. If I had only d’Amboise’s account to go by, I would know very little of that. (And, as d'Amboise notes with perception, it's what Balanchine wanted. Recall that amazing Bert Stern photo of Farrell standing in front of Balanchine waggling her finger at him, while he kneels worshipfully. Unsurprising that some of that would go to a young woman's head.)

#89 Helene

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 12:22 PM

Within a few years, of course, standards changed, and so did casting. "Exquisiteness of changing bodily configurations" and "poetic aura" became the new aesthetic ideal, and Farrell became its priestess. Dancers who expressed themselves differently, or whose body types were different, went out of fashion, fairly or unfairly.

Thus Hayden's often-quoted complaint that Balanchine changed company class to eliminate jumps because Farrell had knee problems, and how could a dancer maintain his/her technique with no jumping in class? The roles and expectations changed with Farrell.

By 1969 almost everyone in Farrell’s life – Balanchine, her mother, even company management to some extent – was making every effort to push her into Balanchine’s bed.

Plus some of the dancers themselves, i.e., "Just put us out of his misery, already." d'Amboise doesn't go on about this, but does say she brought Mejia in as a third, clearly as protection at first.

About Suzanne Farrell, I think it's an example of the enduring power and loyalty of Balanchine's dancers that they generally took his "side" and decided to blame her instead for the very unhappy situation before she left the company. d'Amboise's comments just come as a surprise because they were partners for so long, that one would think he would feel some loyalty towards Suzanne too, and see the difficult situation Balanchine created for the entire company, and that he wasn't helping matters either.

I don't think he describes Balanchine's behavior as blameless. d'Amboise knew Balanchine's foibles well enough not only from observation, but from close personal friendships with his leading ballerinas. He sounds too strong-willed to deliberately whitewash Balanchine's behavior.

To me he sounds like a guy, and he reminds me of the scene in "Carlos Saura's Carmen", where Paco de Lucia and another musician in Antonio Gades' flamenco troupe see that Gades' character is going over the deep end over Laura del Sol's Carmen character. They talk to him in that shorthand guy way, and when he makes it clear that he's heading over that cliff, they just shake their heads and wait for the train wreck to be over. He and the others of his generation had lived through this many times before.

dirac wrote "In the case of Balanchine and Farrell the power really only went one way – she had as much power as Balanchine chose to allow her and when the crunch came it was clear where the real clout was." I think that d'Amboise's description of this makes so much more sense out of her ultimatum than either she herself did, or the other accounts that describe him making many of the casting and rep decisions, rather than rubber-stamping hers.

#90 Quiggin

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 01:07 PM

Garis* says that with Farrell and Mimi Paul who alternated between 1963 and 1968, the impact of the sheer size of their bodies, allowed him to read the roles they did differently, as if they were in large type, than he had with Verdy and Schorer.

d"Amboise says that when Farrell came back, Balanchine became more interested in Kyra Nichols and Darci Kistler and created few, if any, new roles for her. Croce as she is raving about Farrell in "Diamonds" after her return, and how rather than a "omnicompetent blank," she's now "dynamic, colorful, tender" and "perfects the act of balance/imbalance as a constant feature of dancing," interesting notes that "none of the ballets Balanchine created for her were top-flight."

Recall that amazing Bert Stern photo of Farrell standing in front of Balanchine waggling her finger at him, while he kneels worshipfully.


And "Don Quixote."

*And agreeing with Patrick about the superiority of Denby's clarity over the fussy Garis, Garis does provide good continuity background of the company.


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