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Balanchine's Muse


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 08:02 AM

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.

#17 atm711

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:52 PM

I have watched Tallchief f rom her early beginnings with the Denham Ballet Russe from 1944 on to Ballet Society and NYCB. She was a wonderful soloist then and had an exalted free way of performing--not to worry about positions or correct technique--just dance in an exhilarating way! To this day I can remember with fondness how she led the pas-de-sept in Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme, the second ballerina part in Ballet Imperial and the Fairy in the Fairy's Kiss. Using the analogy of horses; think of the beauty of seeing a free horse roaming the plains, and then a much in control racehorse. Both beautiful conceptions! Balanchine saw all this talent and turned her into a thoroughbred. As much as I admired the outcome of Balanchine's influence, whenever I saw her dance I would think---just this once, break loose.

As to being a muse---I'm not so sure. Balanchine needed a ballerina for his Company (Maryellen Moylan was no longer around, having left, I think, as early as her Ballet Society days). She filled a necessary need.

As to the list of the 19 would-be muses, I have seen all of them except Geva and Doubrovska. I wouldn't classify the remainder as Muses---of course with the exception of Farrell---I think he waited all his life for her.

#18 atm711

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Posted 16 November 2002 - 06:59 AM

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.

#19 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 10:22 AM

Well, women have a few more options now. :)


It's possible that Balanchine may have made a few more roles for Farrell, but that in itself wouldn't make her more significant to the Balanchine oeuvre than Tallchief. Otherwise our Muse Supreme might very well be Karin von Aroldingen. (I wonder, also, if Balanchine's later ballerinas didn't benefit, in a sense, from his declining health – Kyra Nichols notes in the most recent issue of Ballet Review that he was working only with people who knew him very well at that point.) Also, if you factor in roles that were restaged or revived for her, Tallchief might very well come out ahead. It's also generally conceded, I think, that the ballets made especially for Farrell were by and large not masterpieces. I'd also argue that Balanchine made roles for Tallchief that were at least as crucial to the repertory as the ones he made for Farrell, if not more so – she was Odette, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Firebird – you might say he was rethinking the ballerina canon through Tallchief. And she was the first homegrown American ballerina to become an international star.



I'd hazard that the two have in common that they were both company figureheads – the Chosen Ones whom Balanchine presented as exemplifying The Balanchine Way, the ballerina for our time, so to speak. Patricia McBride, for example, was a great ballerina but does not seem to have served in that function. ( I bet that if Balanchine had made "Diamonds'" in Tallchief's time, it would have been Maria's part.)


Le Clercq fits in between Tallchief and Diana Adams, and you have to squeeze Allegra Kent in there, too. There's a funny scene in Tallchief' s autobiography where she confides to her good friend Tanaquil that her marriage is not in the finest shape. Little does she know, etc……………

#20 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:08 PM

And we mustn't forget Mary Ellen Moylan, the original "Sanguinic" girl (that role went to Tallchief when Moylan left).


It's true that Tallchief's look and style were not imposed on the company as Farrell's were, but then for much of her time the company wasn't yet the company, strictly speaking. Leigh, I understand what you're saying about Balanchine's perennial fascination with The Look, and it's true that Tallchief didn't have that. But does that leave her as far outside the Balanchine mold as Verdy? I still don't think so. I'm inclined to agree with Alexandra about time bias playing a role here. ( And Croce does say "probably.")

#21 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:26 PM

I believe Titania was originally begun on Diana Adams, who had to drop out for another one of those ill-timed pregnancies, and became Hayden's by default.

#22 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:03 PM

She did, poor thing. I think the pregnancy that caused her withdrawal from Movements for Piano and Orchestra also ended prematurely. Fortunately she did have a daughter eventually, named Georgina, if I'm remembering right. But I wander afield of the topic.

#23 dirac

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 05:11 PM

I do recall reading, though, that Moylan left in part because she felt Balanchine's attention had already turned decisively to Tallchief (although who knows what might have happened if Moylan had toughed it out)?

#24 dirac

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 11:06 AM

Let us not forget, while breaking down the numbers, that timing, character, and circumstance play an important role here. For example, if Allegra Kent had not resisted Balanchine and insisted on having all those babies, Farrell might well have found the muse spot securely occupied when she arrived.

I think the balance of power in the creator/muse relationship is finally in favor of the creator, and while women traditionally have been better able to adjust to playing the secondary role, sometimes even glorying in it, after awhile others chafe. It's even harder for men, as Erick and Martha could tell you.

#25 dirac

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 10:17 AM

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.)

#26 dirac

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 04:39 PM

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.

#27 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2002 - 11:09 AM

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….

#28 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2002 - 04:55 PM

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.) :)

#29 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 08:21 PM

I was under the impression that Balanchine made more of his masterpieces on Tallchief than on his other muses... Is this true? Anyone care to make a list?

#30 Amy Reusch

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Posted 02 November 2002 - 08:10 PM

I think times have changed and we have so few muses because we've had so few (as Leigh said) who are willing to take the "job" and too few choreographers who feel the need to have one. Perhaps the muses were the first "stars" of ballet and again, the lack of them now is depressing.


Might I suggest that very many choreographers have muses but sometimes they become afraid of them? The power issue? Is the choreographer in charge? Will the muse overstep his/her role in the relationship? Will the muse become more important than the choreographer? I think many choreographers could mention a dancer or two that embody their choreographic intents more clearly and quickly than anyone else. But there is that ego issue, and I think for the creative juices to flow properly the choreographer must feel secure... Balanchine doesn't seem to have been too worried about that with his female dancers. [Although Gelsey Kirkland seemed to feel the door shut permanently on her when she left NYCB. And Farrell had a hard time of it when she married Mejia.] All the same, it seems like he had a different sort of relationship with his male muses. (I assume one can have a male muse?)

Perhaps it is hard for dancers to be as giving as choreographers need them to be.

And it must be unnerving for management to have dancers have that much power.


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