Jump to content


Marina Harss: Suzanne Farrell Ballet and the Balanchine Preservation IOnline Article


  • Please log in to reply
17 replies to this topic

#1 pherank

pherank

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,238 posts

Posted 08 July 2013 - 08:43 PM

I'm curious what people think about the Marina Harss article regarding Suzanne Farrell Ballet and the Balanchine Preservation Initiative (date of publish is not displayed).

http://www.thefaster...d-other-things/

"The staging of lost Balanchine works is one of Farrell’s aims, formulated in her Balanchine Preservation Initiative. A noble goal, even if one sometimes wonders if ballets like “Pithoprakta” and “Clarinade” really needed to be revived."

Since I have a natural affinity for Balanchine's work, I don't really question the need to revive forgotten or semi-lost ballets/dances. And to my mind, it is always interesting to see the development of a significant artist, and the artist's works over time, and to see the interrelationships (or discontinuities) within the oeuvre. Harss (perhaps inadvertently) draws a line between ballets that can be deemed significant (but by who exactly?), and ballets presumed to be less successful and thus not worth paying money for. Reviving rare works of a master choreographer, to me, is not very different from the discovery of minor works by a master painter, or discovering previously unheard recordings by important jazz musicians in an attic somewhere. And I think the comparison works especially well in Balanchine's case - he was an important 20th century Modern artist, and went about his work in a manner that fits well within that category.

I'm wondering how many people find this preservation effort of importance, and how many would rather attention was paid to other things.

"The rest of the evening had its highs and lows. The reconstruction of 'Haieff Divertimento' (a mediocre work, in my opinion) was notable mainly for the way it foreshadows phrases from 'Square Dance,' made thirteen years later...It’s interesting to see once, and helps us understand how Balanchine honed re-cycled and discarded elements of older works, but it’s not indispensable viewing."

Ah, but does it need to be "indispensable"? Harss plainly places a high value on a ballet's ability to 'entertain', and tied to that, a high level of execution: "Farrell’s dancers just didn’t seem quite ready for the big time". Although she doesn't come right out and say it, I think she had major reservations about the entire evening - both the execution and the concept.
 



#2 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,207 posts

Posted 08 July 2013 - 08:52 PM

I might think there are more important things to spend limited funds on (or not), but either someone gave Farrell money to use as she wished, or she convinced someone to open their wallet(s) to fund this particular initiative. 

 

There's a lot about arts funding on which we don't get a vote nor any say in how the money is distributed, even through elected or appointed representatives.  Often the reasons for funding are based in some combination of personal influence, charisma, networking, reputation, and initiative as well as past track record, rather than, for example, a board of peers or funding experts with their own criteria and biases.



#3 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,302 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 03:58 AM

 

"The reconstruction of 'Haieff Divertimento' (a mediocre work, in my opinion) was notable mainly for the way it foreshadows phrases from 'Square Dance,' made thirteen years later...It’s interesting to see once, and helps us understand how Balanchine honed re-cycled and discarded elements of older works, but it’s not indispensable viewing."

 

If I'm not mistaken, the 2010 Kennedy Center performances were the first time that ballet had been danced in 17 years, since Whelan and Martins led it at NYCB's 1993 Balanchine Celebration. So many if not most audience members hadn't yet seen it once. I was grateful to see it again, and to have seen her revivals of Clarinade and Pithoprakta and Concierto de Mozart and Ragtime and Variations for Orchestra and Balanchine's Don Quixote and other works. 

 

For her first two programs of Balanchine at the Kennedy Center, Farrell brought in Susan Jaffe, Helene Alexopoulos, Maria Calegari, Nina Ananiasvili, and one or two European dancers whose names I've forgotten. Later on, Peter Boal was a guest for several seasons. Ben Huys did a season or two. I'd rather see dancers on that level dance the great ballets (as they did), with the benefit of her coaching, than see them dance forgotten works. But with a few exceptions her principals in recent years haven't been on that level, and so it's been a great pleasure to see, mixed in with the masterpieces, lesser works that give them context. I think it's worthwhile too to give later generations a chance to consider and rate works that previous ones didn't value highly.



#4 cargill

cargill

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 645 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 04:27 AM

I saw Haieff Divertimento during the 1993 celebration, and I loved it.  The music was, for me, just gorgeous, and the choreography was very interesting, especially for the men.  I myself would love to see it again, and personally, I think any and all preservation should be supported!  Mary



#5 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 04:41 AM

The article says:
 

The staging of lost Balanchine works is one of Farrells aims, formulated in her Balanchine Preservation Initiative. A noble goal, even if one sometimes wonders if ballets like Pithoprakta and Clarinade really needed to be revived.

A good question.  What should be revived; what should probably not?  How do you justify an investment in one production when something more "important" is ignored?  It's been interesting to read the responses to this, especially kfw's. 
 
I'd like to speak up for reviving Clarinade.  This was on the first program I saw after NYCB moved to Llincoln Center.  (I remember because I was down in NYC for spring break and because Benny Goodman was playing the clarinet composition that Morton Gould had written just for this ballet.  I used to play the clarinet.)
 
My memories are sketchy.  The corny costumes are the only negatives that stick in my mind. Everything else was clearly Balanchine in his jazzy mode, blending ballet and jazz dancing in a way that wasn't all that far from parts of Agon, though more exhuberant, youthful, and free.  Flexed feet, pelvic thrusts, and that sort of thing. There was an adagio pdd. The finale was big, with lots of dancers dancing their hearts out (as the used to say about 30s musicals) and doing their best to fill up the Lincoln Center stage.  I liked it, though I was aware that many people in the audience definitely did not. 
 
Any revival should probably jettison the costumes, and skip the exaggerated, hey-kids-let's-have-a-party "acting" that Balanchine allowed his dancers to indulge in.  A revival should let us see the dance without visual clutter and dated emoting. Dress the dancers in leotards, and you might have something worth looking at closely -- for its own sake, and not just for the historical record.

#6 California

California

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,513 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 05:41 AM

I might think there are more important things to spend limited funds on (or not), but either someone gave Farrell money to use as she wished, or she convinced someone to open their wallet(s) to fund this particular initiative. 

 

There is information about some of her funding sources on the web site for the Farrell Ballet: 

 

http://www.kennedy-c...rrell/notes.cfm?

 

The Kennedy Center's Ballet Season is presented with the support of Elizabeth and Michael Kojaian.

Generous support for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is provided by The Ted & Mary Jo Shen Charitable Gift Fund, Emily Williams Kelly, and The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation.

 

I vaguely remember when her company was getting started that Roger Stevens (or other head honchos) at the Kennedy Center was a driving force in giving her a home (and, no doubt, funds). 

 

The Preservation Initiative seems to come under the umbrella of the Farrell Ballet. I don't see additional information about funding sources, but presumably, by carving out this identity, it would be eligible for grants from NEA, foundations, etc.

 

http://www.kennedy-c...reservation.cfm

 

Uncovering early works is valuable for dance historians trying to better understand Balanchine's work, even if they were not masterpieces. Think of how many art museum exhibits dig out early works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Rothko, etc,, etc., so we can learn more about how their work evolved. We don't have much of that comparable history in dance for all the obvious reasons, and this seems a step in the right direction. I assume everything is being videotaped, even if not notated.



#7 Kathleen O'Connell

Kathleen O'Connell

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 775 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 06:59 AM

I see that by the time I’d finished writing up what follows, a lot of other folks had already posted many of the same thoughts. Apologies for repeating what others have said!

 

I’m of two minds. I attended the Joyce performances that Harss reviewed in her FasterTimes piece and agree with her that “Haieff Divertimento” isn’t a masterpiece. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing it again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do so. Nor would I expect—or want—a ballet company to keep it in its repertory at the expense of other, better choreography, even if that other choreography was by someone not named Balanchine. Money is tight, careers are short, and there are already too many limits on what audiences without easy access to major companies get to see. I don’t want those audience to get “Haieff” in lieu of “Square Dance.”  (Or “Meditation” in lieu of “After the Rain” for that matter.)

 

That being said, I’m all in favor of someone expending blood and treasure to preserve important choreography before it’s lost forever. And I’d consider the minor work of a major choreographer “important” for the purposes of reconstruction and preservation. Done right—with scrupulous research, adequate rehearsal time, good dancers, live music, decent costumes, professional lighting, expert videography, thorough documentation, a reliable archivist, and enough of a performance run for the revived work to be more than the dance equivalent of a zombie reanimation—it wouldn’t be cheap.

 

It may be that this work falls to specialist companies who make it their mission (New York Ballet Theater comes to mind); it may be that it happens in the context of a festival (an annual Aspen Festival funded reconstruction, say); it may be that it’s undertaken by a university dance department; it may be that it falls to the choreographer’s trust. And it may be that the work is revived once, documented, and then archived—and that would be fine. I think it’s OK if a work like “Haieff,” once it’s been documented, lives on in an archive rather than on stage.

 

Should Suzanne Farrell be directing her resources towards choreographic preservation? I think I’d rather that than another curate’s egg like her company’s 2011 run at the Joyce. The recorded music flattened the whole experience. The tight confines of the stage and the intimacy of the theater had the curious effect of making the “Diamonds” pas de deux look dinky. The dancers were more than good enough to show you what a rarely performed work like “Haieff” could be like, but not reliably up to the challenges of the major works on the program. Like everyone else I appreciated and admired the many good things Farrell had been able to impart to what is essentially a pick-up troupe, but I left the theater with the odd feeling that I’d seen recital rather than a performance.

 

Were Farrell able to secure the resources to build a real company—even if it were a chamber company that spent a good deal of its time on the road (a signal service to the arts, as far as I’m concerned)—I might feel differently. 



#8 Jack Reed

Jack Reed

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,526 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 12:59 PM

I also have a few thoughts in common with others, like Kathleen, but sometimes I can't things pass, so at the risk of seeming to lecture my friends, which I don't intend, here goes:

 

Personally, I wouldn't tell Suzanne Farrell what to do; I'm just grateful she's doing what she can.  If I disagree sometimes with her choices of repertory, that's okay - you can only disagree with someone who cares about what you care about.  (Otherwise it's a shrug, right?)  

 

In our spirit of disclosure, I'll reveal that I'm perhaps one of those people Helene refers to - I send the Kennedy Center what may amount to about 1-1/2% of TSFB's budget, which all told only seems to allow Farrell to hire a score dancers for a dozen weeks, although they are often the same dancers, at least at the top of the roster, and some of the others participate in other of her projects, for example in Florida.  

 

I suspect that's why the performances tend to look, as Harss says, like they're not quite ready for prime time, compared, let's say, to MCB, with a budget maybe ten times TSFB's and whose dancers may consequently number forty and their contracts also about forty weeks:  Worth comparing to TSFB because they have also presented performances with much of the energy and immediacy and involvement that characterized those supervised by Balanchine himself - a few of which we can see in videos linked to on another of pherank's threads (and a good one it is for those videos and for the contrasting ones of, I would say, inauthentic performances).  

 

I value her troupe's performances for their other virtues, virtues Harss describes so well.  (This is the first thing by her I've read, but not the last.)  That's why my name's there in the fine print in the back of the program - a little different from the reasons people contribute Helene gives.  What I see with TSFB doesn't go far enough; but it's headed in the right direction, and for this NYCB Old Audience member - one happily trained to see in Balanchine's theater in his last dozen active years - it puts to shame larger, richer companies who claim to present Balanchine's work, "essential" examples of it or not.  

 

And not the least of their - her - virtues is the apparent motivation to entertain, to risk putting together a show from what materials she has.

 

(I've always felt the title "Balanchine Preservation Initiative" plopped a bit, and I'm glad for the speculation here that it may have opened up another funding channel.)

 



#9 Jack Reed

Jack Reed

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,526 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 01:58 PM

...

 I'd like to speak up for reviving Clarinade

...

 The corny costumes are the only negatives that stick in my mind.  ...  There was an adagio pdd. 

...

 Any revival should probably jettison the costumes, and skip the exaggerated, hey-kids-let's-have-a-party "acting" that Balanchine allowed his dancers to indulge in.  A revival should let us see the dance without visual clutter and dated emoting. Dress the dancers in leotards, and you might have something worth looking at closely -- for its own sake, and not just for the historical record.

 

 

 But, bart, then it would be just another leotard ballet!  (paraphrasing Mr. B in defense of some other idiosyncratic costuming, maybe Square Dance)  Here's what TSFB actually used for that part of it, the "Contrapuntal Blues" pas de deux (which looks a lot like a tiny, historical black-and-white thumbnail up on the Balanchine Trust web site):

 

4458204478_07c0b8f837_z.jpg

 

Better yet:

 

"Contrapuntal Blues" excerpt, from Clarinade, by TSFB, at Jacob's Pillow

 

(In the still image here, Elisabeth Holowchuk's partner is Ted Seymour; in the video clip, it isn't Momchil Mladenov, in spite of what the page says, although his name was printed in the program.  According to my notes in my program from the time, both performances on July 8, matinee and evening, she danced this with Benjamin Lester.)

 

But, revive a dance for its own sake, and not (just) for the historical record?  Right on, bart, right on! 


Edited by Jack Reed, 09 July 2013 - 02:24 PM.


#10 canbelto

canbelto

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,884 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 02:06 PM

When Suzanne Farrell Ballet first started its operations I remember reading the gushing reviews. Those high standards are difficult to maintain for a pick-up troupe without a steady roster, and now the critical shine has worn off. Sad, but true.



#11 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,207 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 03:43 PM

I value her troupe's performances for their other virtues, virtues Harss describes so well.  (This is the first thing by her I've read, but not the last.)  That's why my name's there in the fine print in the back of the program - a little different from the reasons people contribute Helene gives.  What I see with TSFB doesn't go far enough; but it's headed in the right direction,

That's the reason I qualified my statement with "often."  My point was that people donate for whatever reason they want, and if it's their money, it's their decision.  It's not that I don't cringe at some of the money that's thrown around on vanity projects -- nothing at all to do with Suzanne Farrell Ballet -- or think "If I Ruled the Universe, The Money Would Go [To Something Else]", but, at the end of the day, I'm not writing the checks.

 

I donate not even close to 1.5% of PNB's New Works Initiative, but I do donate what I can because I think it's important for PNB to do new work and for ballet choreographers to have a stage on which to practice and strengthen their craft.  (Everybody wants the stupendously popular masterwork, but few want to invest in the developmental ballets.)  I don't have to like everything regardless of how successful and/or popular the works are, and I don't expect every world premiere to be a finished product or unqualified success, because while there are certain choreographers like Wheeldon, Ratmansky, and Gibson who increase the odds, nothing is guaranteed, and who wants them to have to duplicate themselves and take no risks?  I don't even have to agree with what Peter Boal chooses or the direction he takes with some of the work because there's enough variety, from "Giselle" to "Concerto DSCH" to "Dances at a Gathering" to "Matrix Theory."  If I thought all of the choices were going off the cliff, I might think otherwise.  I'm always disappointed with what I consider the neglect of American classics, such as the Tudor rep, and the missed opportunities elsewhere, but unless there's a megabazillions jackpot with my name on it, I can't have that pony.



#12 pherank

pherank

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,238 posts

Posted 09 July 2013 - 09:35 PM

I've enjoyed reading everyone's responses, and find that I agree with most all of these statements. Kathleen O'Connell reminded me that, unfortunately, money, and often large amounts of it, are needed to put on a ballet at a major company and that does make it quite difficult to schedule rare works into the season. Each and every program has to have money-making potential. That makes the theatre arts particularly difficult to take chances with, and true experimentation seldom occurs within reputable companies. It's actually much easier for the small rep groups to run experimental pieces and deal with low ticket sales.

Farrell has never been afraid to take risks and that makes her a particularly good fit for this initiative task. I'm glad she's on this mission - I just wish there could be adequate financial support to make Suzanne Farrell Ballet a significant regional company along the lines of MCB. It's too bad that people like Villella, Farrell, d'Amboise can't band together, but each needs to be The Chief.

I agree that the Tudor rep needs attention as well.
 



#13 Jack Reed

Jack Reed

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,526 posts

Posted 10 July 2013 - 10:38 AM

Another benefit of staging these seldom-seen works Farrell herself has spoken of is that, for the dancers, it's like having a new work made on them.  Like having Mr. B. working with you?  In any case, I gather working with a choreographer is a big help in a dancer's development.

 

I'm not sure that personal or artistic rivalry is what always keeps Balanchine's "heirs" apart, but something else, I don't know what.  I believe Farrell and d'Amboise have been friends since the beginning, even since before the beginning - one of the chairs in her living room in Cincinnati she and her sisters used for support even bore his name - and, more to the point, he was among those who saluted her from the stage at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005.  I'm hardly privy, but I think she must have had a hand in the choice.  (In the TV program, he's the only one, but in the theater, Maria Tallchief and Arthur Mitchell were there, too.)

 

Actually, Villella's practice in Florida was to bring in Farrell, Verdy, Bonnefoux, McBride, Kent, and whoever was original to or accomplished in the repertory he wanted to present.  In the Harss interview, he indicates money was a factor which limited the extent of their cooperation, which shouldn't surprise us.   



#14 canbelto

canbelto

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,884 posts

Posted 10 July 2013 - 06:43 PM

Another benefit of staging these seldom-seen works Farrell herself has spoken of is that, for the dancers, it's like having a new work made on them.  Like having Mr. B. working with you?  In any case, I gather working with a choreographer is a big help in a dancer's development.

 

I'm not sure that personal or artistic rivalry is what always keeps Balanchine's "heirs" apart, but something else, I don't know what.  I believe Farrell and d'Amboise have been friends since the beginning, even since before the beginning - one of the chairs in her living room in Cincinnati she and her sisters used for support even bore his name - and, more to the point, he was among those who saluted her from the stage at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005.  I'm hardly privy, but I think she must have had a hand in the choice.  (In the TV program, he's the only one, but in the theater, Maria Tallchief and Arthur Mitchell were there, too.)

 

Actually, Villella's practice in Florida was to bring in Farrell, Verdy, Bonnefoux, McBride, Kent, and whoever was original to or accomplished in the repertory he wanted to present.  In the Harss interview, he indicates money was a factor which limited the extent of their cooperation, which shouldn't surprise us.   

 

Friends? I'm not so sure after the publication of d'Amboise's memoir which included some incredibly harsh commentary about Suzanne Farrell's behavior before she left the NYCB and after she rejoined. Farrell in d'Amboise's memoir comes across as entitled, selfish, and manipulative. It's hard to know if there was a rift or whether d'Amboise was airing some long-held grievances and resentments but I was shocked because no other NYCB ballerina receives criticism as harsh as d'Amboise doles out to Farrell.

 

It seems as if the disrespect Mr. B showed the other dancers in the company when he was most infatuated with Farrell is a wound that hasn't completely healed. Perhaps that explains why Farrell's company remains a sort of lone-wolf pick-up company -- she's really working all alone, without the cooperation/support of her former NYCB colleagues.  



#15 Jayne

Jayne

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 870 posts

Posted 10 July 2013 - 07:45 PM

Given the number of regional companies that perform Balanchine works so well, I think it would be great if Farrell's company offered fellowships to perform there for a full season, and then return to the home company.  This would allow the dancers to get a full year of Farrell classes and coaching, and return to their companies with a new facet of understanding of the Balanchine way.  I think it would be so exciting if Washington DC could see some great partnership dancing that now is only available at Vail.  

 

Imagine if Houston, PNB, SFB, Boston, MCB, Arizona, Ballet West, Carolina and a few others each year sent 2 dancers to spend a full year with Suzanne Farrell.  It would be something like the Princess Grace scholarships, but more like a resident fellowship in DC.  




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):