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Dale

Balanchine's Muse

63 posts in this topic

Dale, thank you for those wonderful quotes from Diana Adams. It's so gratifying to hear one ballerina praise another. But perhaps that is characteristic of muses, whose first devotion must be to the artist they inspire.

You asked who Patricia McBride's predecessor was. I remember Arlene Croce once writing that the ballerina whom McBride most resembled was Marie-Jeanne, and went on to praise McBride's performance of one of Balanchine's works for M-J, Ballet Imperial (or Tchaikovsky Concerto #2).

I must say I'm surprised by the relatively little discussion about Tanaquil Le Clerq. Many writers, including Croce, have stressed the importance of Le Clerq to the development of the "Balanchine ballerina." And her influence continued even after her retirement—Croce once suggested that Balanchine choreographed the Agon pas de deux (on Adams) with Le Clerq in mind.

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I believe, also, that of all of his wives, Balanchine was married to Le Clerq for the greatest length of time (15 years?).

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I think, unfortunately, that LeClercq, although she was undeniably important, suffers from two things -- one, she didn't dance long enough, and two, some of the roles that were the most individual created on her disappeared with her illness.

I wish someone had done a book on Diana Adams -- one could be done now, but it wouldn't be the same as one done based on interviews with her when she was alive. From the little I've seen and read, she's one of The Great Ones for me.

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Re: LeClercq

I always her "story" would be one that sparked enough interest in her. At the public tribute NYCB did for her, there didn't seem to be a dry eye in the house.

She was really Robbins muse as well.

I didn't realize many of her roles had disappeared.

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I think words Dale wrote about Farrell feeling or knowing no boundaries are true, but in my own head, she's easier to classify than either LeClercq or Kent, and I wonder if that's another reason she stays with us (although I think it's primarily because she was the last)

What was fascinating to me about LeClercq from the films shown at her memorial was that she was completely unclassifiable. Yes, she had "The Look", but unlike Farrell, you didn't feel like she was a conduit for Balanchine onstage. On bad quality deteriorating from age, you still get a blast not only of her beauty and her glamour, but her wit and mischief.

Ditto Kent. One assumes from her plasticity that she was just an adagio dancer, but then there's the 1956 tape of Western (with LeClercq as well - probably the last tape made of her before she was stricken) and she's in the scherzo, leaping and beating beside Robert Barnett. Or Kent's oblique, birdlike second movement Symphony in C.

All these women were so lucky to have found Balanchine. But, oh, how lucky he was that they found him.

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However, genius will find a way, no matter who happens to be available, and Balanchine did find ways to remind all of these ladies that none of them were indispensable to him. Galatea does have power over Pygmalion, but only as much as he chooses to give her. (The wise Muse does not miscalculate the extent of this power. It's clear from Farrell's book, for example,that when she delivered her ultimatum to Balanchine in 1969 she really did not believe he would fire her. Guess again, Suzi.)

We are forgetting Vera Zorina. She was never a major ballerina, but all evidence indicates that Balanchine was seriously bananas over her for quite a long time. (Now that I think about it, wasn't Zorina the last of Balanchine's women to be truly independent of him? She had her own career on the stage and Hollywood, and though he choreographed for her and did a great deal for her, he wasn't her boss and she was not professionally dependent upon him otherwise. Not that this is necessarily significant.)

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Wasn't it the 1940 film I Was an Adventuress that featured a parody of a Hollywoodized Act II Swan Lake staged by Balanchine for Zorina, and if you look quickly, you'll see him as the orchestra conductor?

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I think you're right, and there's also the number he staged for her in The Goldwyn Follies, where she emerges from a fountain clothed in gold (and totally dry), and I forget much of the rest, but she winds up posed on this huge golden horse.

It's too bad he didn't get to do more for the movies – he was clearly very open to the possibilities of the medium and willing to experiment. He was supposed to stage "An American in Paris" for the movie, if I'm remembering right, but he was a little too eager to experiment for Goldwyn's taste, apparently.

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At the Stravinsky Celebration of 1982, Balanchine invited Zorina to perform the speaking part of Persephone in French. (Text by Andre Gide.) Mr. B was already quite ill and the choreography was officially credited to John Taras, Balanchine, and Zorina. Apparently Balanchine did choreograph a pair of pas de deux for the dancing Persephone, Karin von Aroldingen, and Mel Tomlinson. The production was not well-received, as I recall, but I remember sitting next to a vociferous Zorina fan that night, who kept shouting "Brava Birgitta!" (Her real name was Birgitta Hartwig.)

Her 1982 NYCB experience seems not to have been a happy one. In her 1986 autobiography, "Zorina," she wrote: "Once I stood in the wings to watch a performance, and a tall man stepped directly in front of me. It was Peter Martins. Not a word was uttered. It wasn't even rude -- I simply didn't exist. Finally I too stopped smiling and saying 'good morning' or 'hello' to the dancers. I was in the middle of the most brilliantly disciplined cult, a foreign object who was tolerated only because of Mr. B."

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Dirac writes that it is "NOT necessarily significant that Zorina became completely independent of Balanchine". I think it's most significant. Independence is one quality that Balanchine did not admire in a woman. Also, I am waiting for the day when a more balanced view of his relationships with his muses is written. Most of what women have written about him is glassy-eyed and weepy.

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atm711, I actually agree with you, I just didn't feel qualified to be that forthright. However, I would add that Balanchine did appreciate independence in a woman, as carefully defined by himself. I'd add that Zorina never seems to have had to "become" independent of Balanchine as others did – she already was.

It would be interesting to hear more candid testimony from the ballerinas, such as provided by Marie-Jeanne and Melissa Hayden in "I Remember Balanchine" for example. And by candid I don't necessarily mean unflattering – I'm just not greatly interested in further anecdotes about what perfume Balanchine told So-and-so to wear, or "I was there during his greatest period…." sort of thing….

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We are still waiting for a definitive biography of Balanchine, which would address such issues as how he felt about women, independent and otherwise. The best of the published lot, by Bernard Taper, grew from a New Yorker profile. It is basically a piece of journalism -- superior journalism -- but not the in-depth biography we require.

That said, not all the muses have written adoringly of Mr. B. Isn't it so that that Gelsey Kirkland was, however briefly, regarded as a muse? And there is at least one very good book by a former wife, his first: "Split Seconds," by Tamara Geva. The recollections edited by Francis Mason under the title "I Remember Balanchine," mentioned by dirac, also contain many of the "he picked out perfume" sort of pieces. But the book includes nine pages by William Weslow which amount to the most stinging rebuke of Balanchine I've ever read.

Okay, now I can go curl up and get all teary-eyed again with the paperback of "Holding on to the Air." ;)

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Actually, I was speaking of most of the female dancers who were interviewed for the book, not the men, who are a different kettle of fish entirely. (And I should perhaps add, not all of the women.) (Weslow was a riot, incidentally. Just loved his little farewell present for Balanchine.) :)

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