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Memorable Farewells

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#1 Farrell Fan

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Posted 25 June 2002 - 06:44 PM

By popular demand (a request from dirac), and inspired by Susan Jaffe's farewell at ABT, these are my recollections of Suzanne Farrell's last performance at NYCB. It took place on November 26, 1989, a Sunday evening, the evening for NYCB farewells. (NYCB eliminated Sunday evening performances a while ago, but the farewells have kept on coming.)

The evening began with a reprise of Sophisticated Lady, a ballet by Peter Martins to Duke Ellington, which had opened the American Music Festival the previous season. Martins said he choreographed it to "celebrate the glamor girl side of Suzanne." He came out of his own dancing retirement to partner her again at the Festival and the farewell. I loved Sophisticated Lady, and was thrilled when I read it would appear on a PBS telecast of Martins choreography. Unfortunately, the PBS version had a sappy made-for-TV ending in which Suzanne gazed longingly at a line of chorus boys (including Nilas) which dissolved into Peter on bended knee. This TV version completely eliminated the best part of the ballet -- a gently swinging Don't Get Around Much Anymore, which brought down the house at the Festival and the farewell.

I don't remember the program between Sophisticated Lady and Vienna Waltzes, but it didn't involve Suzanne. A burst of applause greeted her customary solo entrance in the Rosenkavalier section of Vienna Waltzes, but in the next moment, a hush came over the audience. From then till the end of the ballet, people seemed hardly to breathe. My wife and I had seats in the orchestra fairly close to the stage, on the side. Sitting near us were several SAB students and Alexandra Danilova. At the end, after the regular company curtain calls, the ovation began and Danilova, somewhat unsteadily, rose to her feet. The rest of us stood too. White roses from which the thorns had been removed rained down from the sides of the various rings, flung by NYCB Guild volunteers. Suzanne's partners came out with floral tributes -- Adam Luders, Jacques d'Anboise, Peter. Lincoln Kirstein emerged with a spray of white roses. It seemed he would cry and Suzanne put her head on his shoulder. The moment was captured by Steven Caras in a photograph that was on the cover of the Winter 1990 issue of Ballet Review. Suzanne herself seemed on the verge of losing it when she turned to acknowledge the applauding company arrayed behind her.

The love emanating from that audience was palpable. It's not much of an exaggeration to say there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Suzanne had come a long way in the audience's affections since the days when her shyness had caused her to be regarded as cold and aloof. And all along, the shower of white roses continued -- according to Ballet Review, there were 13,000 in all.

#2 Alexandra


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 06:00 AM

Thank you -- that was beautiful, Lou.

Has anyone ellse been at a farewell performance, Farrell's or anyone else's?

#3 sneds


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 07:05 AM

I saw Nicole Hlinka and Helene Alexopoulos's last performances (and Susan Jaffe's).

During the bows after Hlinka's last performance, Damian Woetzel, who had danced with her earlier in the evening, leapt out dressed in the Harlequin costume from "Harlequinade" to present her with yet another bouquet of flowers. Apparently the female lead in "Harlequinade" was one of Hlinka's signature roles. Also, when Hlinka stepped back to achknowledge the crowd, she slipped on the flowers and fell flat on her bottom. She recovered gracefully and was very careful where she put her feet after that!

We've mentioned a lot of final performances of ballerinas. Has anyone seen a danseur's final performance (Luders, Martins, Fischer etc.)?

#4 Alexandra


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 07:52 AM

Thanks, sneds! Hlinka was one of my favorites.

#5 Ari


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 08:36 AM

Apparently the female lead in "Harlequinade" was one of Hlinka's signature roles.

Columbine was a significant role in Hlinka's career because it was her very first solo of any kind. It happened, I think, in 1975 or 1976, winter season, when Patricia McBride (who never got sick or injured) caught the flu and Hlinka, her understudy, was forced to go on with about a day's notice. I saw the performance and she was amazingly strong (that is a tough part) and confident. People were saying afterwards that she would be "the next comet." Well, it certainly didn't work out that way—she had to wait a long, long time for her talent to be recognized—but she acquired a devoted fan club that stuck with her through the lean years.

Kate, you also asked if anyone had seen a danseur's final performance. I saw Peter Martins's, but it was nothing like the gala celebrations enjoyed by the ballerinas. He chose to go out after the 1,000th performance of The Nutcracker in, I think, 1983. He had been directing the company for about a year and decided (wisely, I think) that he couldn't be both coach and player. There was no ceremony after the performance, just prolonged applause and a solo bow. In his unsentimental way, he simply extended his arm after the last bow as if to say, "Okay, thanks, this was lovely, but enough."

#6 dirac


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 09:40 AM

Farrell Fan, thank you so much for the lovely post. It sounds like a magnificent sendoff. I think the Caras photograph is reproduced Holding On to the Air, also.

#7 Estelle


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Posted 26 June 2002 - 01:42 PM

I saw Elisabeth Platel's official farewell performance at the Paris Opera in july 1999, in Lacotte's version of "La Sylphide". Actually she came back to dance with the company later (last summer I saw her in Neumeier's "Midsummer night's dream"), but it was her last official performance as an "etoile" (principal dancer). There were two different James: Nicolas Le Riche in the first act, and Manuel Legris in the second act, both excellent. I couldn't compare with other performances in that role, as it was the first time I saw that version of "La Sylphide" live (I had seen it on video with Denard and Thesmar), but for me that was a great performance, and I couldn't help regretting the stupidly strict POB rules about retirement ages. At the end of the performance, Platel received several bouquets, and also some sort of confettis or petal flowers falling from above, and a long, long standing ovation.

There have been quite a lot of farewell performances since I started attending POB performances, and I do regret missing all the others (Lormeau, Jude, Legree, Loudieres, Arbo, Gaida, Guerin- Dupont and Pietragalla had no farewell performances because they resigned). Also there was a very special performance from Noella Pontois in 1993: her official retirement performance had taken place about 10 years earlier, but on that time it was a real farewell, and she danced in Neumeier's "Nutcracker" with her own daughter Miteki Kudo dancing the role of her
little sister, all that on Christmas Eve and on the day of her 50th birthday... It must have been a moving moment. Elisabeth Maurin might have to retire next season (unless there are some changes in the rules) and I hope that if she does, I'll be able to attend her farewell performance. Unfortunately, sometimes those performances sometimes aren't advertised very much (I remember asking at the phone about Jude's farewell performance, and obviously the person at the POB standard didn't seem to understand why some people might be especially interested in such an event...)

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