I was struck by the way Arlene Croce characterizes Suzanne Farrell's performance in Swan Lake. Croce has a longish essay on version of Swan Lake in her compilation, Going to the Dance
. (Not included in her more widely available Writing in the Dark
This season, Suzannne Farrell made one of her infrequent appearances in the Balanchine one-act Swan Lake, and I meditated on what the Swan Queen might become of Farrell were given new choreography to perform. Evereything she did stretched the old steps beyond their conventional limits; her port de bras was congenitally incapable of accepting the conventional poses. In Farrell, adagio dancing moves decisively away from the contained pose-to-pose evolutions that, even in Balanchine's advanced version, characterize Odette. Farrell is a great white northern bird who lifts the swan's pathetic whisper to a tragic cry.
Balanchine's condensation does the same thing to the ballet. It is not just the second act that he gives us but a medley of the second and fourth acts, and no fourth-act finale has ever been so spectabular as the wheeling and diving of Balanchine's flock and the terrible isolation of his lovers as they withstand the fury of cosmic winds. Balanchine's ballet is a Swan Lake rhapsody; I am caught up in it is in no other version of the ballet, because, although it isn't the traditional Swan Lake, it's the essence of what attracts me in Swan Lake.
I can't help wondering whether I ever saw Farrell dance this role. And cursing myself a bit for not remembering it, if I did.