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Balanchine's Muse


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#31 Juliet

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 11:27 AM

For those new to the field, or who simply want to read further, there is a very good book called Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Musesby Robert Tracy (S&S, 1983). It is out of print, but many libraries own it, or can get it. The picture of Allegra Kent in The Couch Pose is worth the search ......

#32 Ari

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 07:27 AM

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.

#33 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 11:02 AM

Farrell and Tallchief were totally different dancers. Farrell was about excess and in that way redefined the look of the company. I think Tallchief certainly lead the NYCB in the fifties, and I think she was one of its first stars (it was her presence on the first international tours that gave it legitimacy.) I'm not sure she shaped the look of the company in the way that Farrell did. It doesn't make her "better" or "worse" but I think Farrell gets the attention she does partly (in agreement with Alexandra) because she was the last, but also because of her impact. She was archetypal in a way Tallchief never was.

#34 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 02:55 PM

I recall Barbara Walczak talking about a generational change that happened right around the time of the creation of Agon, which coincided with Tallchief's final years in the company. The dancers he was taking into the company (the Nearys, Mimi Paul, Farrell) looked very different than the some of ones that had been there. To me, his choices show a fascination with a certain facility and type from Doubrovska through to Adams and LeClercq to Farrell. In 60 years, one is not closed-mindedly consistent, and there were certainly always the Danilovas and Tallchiefs (and Verdys and von Aroldingens for that matter), but I don't think they were archetypical.

Tallchief was important and her import spreads well past Balanchine (which may be another reason I think of her as less archetypical of Balanchine), but I'm having a hard time naming her "descendants" at NYCB. She was a smaller, strong dancer with a grand scale to her (Firebird, Scotch, Sugarplum, Gounod Symphony), and I'm guessing, but I'd say the dancer "before" her was Marie-Jeanne. In one sense her heir might be Verdy, but I may be stretching to say that, especially as I think Verdy was even more independent than Tallchief.

#35 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 03:35 PM

That's correct, dirac. Balanchine left Midsummers to Adams in his will so I think his inspiration for Titania can be guessed from that.

Which actually brings me to a heretical observation about Farrell: I mean in no way to diminish her impact or greatness, but I do think the best ballets she danced in (rather than her best roles) contained roles she assumed or reinterpreted, (Symphony in C, Agon, Midsummer, Monumentum/Movements) rather than ballets choreographed at the time she created the role (I'd even include Diamonds in this, though I am sure others would not.)

As archetypical and inspiring as she surely was, to me, she wasn't the one who was there when Balanchine made the masterpieces.

#36 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 06:57 PM

Fendrock -

As said before, Farrell and Tallchief were physically very different. From what I can tell from descriptions and films, Farrell was a larger dancer, and a more plastic one than Tallchief. Both were in some senses "heroic"; they both danced big. Farrell had a more extravagant line, Tallchief was considered a virtuoso. Tallchief herself does not have the kindest things to say about her facility; she describes her feet when beginning to work with Balanchine as being "like spoons". It isn't that Farrell was the caricature of a Balanchine dancer either (she had one foot that did not point well, and she was not built to be rail-thin) but her lines and extensions were part of what dirac referred to as The Look.

I've seen clips of Tallchief in Scotch Symphony and I recall her more clearly in the Bell Telephone Hour specials (maybe doing Flower Festival with Nureyev?) She dances with authority; she's older at that point, and she dances like a Star. It's a performance of someone comfortable with performing.

There is a tape of Farrell doing a truncated version of the pas de deux from Agon with Arthur Mitchell. Her effect is the polar opposite; that of someone completely innocent of the effects she produces. Think of what Lolita would have been like if she had no clue what she did to Humbert. She had this amazing physicality, but danced like an innocent.

#37 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 11:47 PM

The catalog of work suggests it was Danilova; she's in almost every new work of his in the Diaghilev era. I recall reading somewhere he also had a fascination with Spessivtseva, but as far as I can see, the only role she created was in La Chatte.

Post Diaghilev, there's also the Baby Ballerinas, Toumanova in particular.

I think Adams is awfully important to the canon - she figures in the creation of a lot of the masterpieces. (original cast of Agon, Divertimento No. 15, Liebeslieder Walzer, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, both Movements for Piano and Orchestra and the role of Titania were created on her though she did not dance their premieres. . .)

To me, Marie-Jeanne was one of the underrated ones, and Allegra Kent coiuld have been even more central than she was.

#38 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 November 2002 - 01:18 PM

To bring up a more sensitive area (and one where I'm making a lot of conjectures, feel free to correct my facts if they're wrong!); one quality of a muse is the fact that you've linked your ambitions and aspirations to someone else's success. I think we should be grateful to the muses out there, but I could certainly understand someone else not wanting the job. Tallchief's first recital consisted of her first playing a piano concerto, then dancing. She was an accomplished woman who credits Balanchine with completing her development as a dancer, but everything I've read suggests someone with a very strong sense of her own identity as well. The consequences of this can certainly be discussed but it seems Farrell was more willing to accept the role of muse; and this becomes no longer a question of who was the better or more inspiring dancer, but who was more willing to accept someone else's identity as defining their own.

#39 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 08:39 AM

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.

#40 liebs

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Posted 02 November 2002 - 02:41 PM

Also, I think (and I've only seen Tallchief on tape) that Farrell's influnence is the one we see reflected - however dimly - in NYCB today.

#41 Calliope

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 08:35 AM

Was Tanaquil LeClercq in between the two (Tallchief and Farrell)?

It's a pity there doesn't seem to be many "muses" anymore

#42 Calliope

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Posted 02 November 2002 - 06:42 PM

sorry, trouble with site for me, switched to wireless, pinging problem I think. okay, back to a static line
Would Whelan be Wheeldon's muse?
I'd certainly consider Kistler to be Martins' muse and Margaret Tracey as well.
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.

Farrell Fan, where's LeClercq in that listing? Surely she had more than 4 done on her to qualify her ;)

#43 Calliope

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Posted 15 November 2002 - 08:17 AM

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.

#44 leibling

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 08:16 AM

I think the reason for the lack of "Farrellisms" is that Suzanne does not encourage them. When she coaches, from what I remember, she teaches the steps to the music (not her own mannerisms) and then tries to bring out the dancers own personal qualities. I remember watching her coach the pas de deux from Agon, and when one of the dancers pointed out that Suzanne's execution of the steps on the video differed from what she had taught, she said that that had been the music as she felt it at that moment... a personal mannerism. She did not allow imitation.

#45 fendrock

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 06:13 AM

I'm reading Maria Tallchief's autobiography.

For the first time, I'm learning about a Balanchine muse other than Suzanne Farrell.

According to this book, Balanchine made many important ballets on Tallchief (she lists Firebird, Swan Lake, Symphony in C, Scotch Symphony and The Nutcracker). He continued to do so even after they were no longer married.

In addition, she seems to have had unprecedented training as a Balanchine dancer. Balanchine spent one summer giving class to just Tallchief and her partner at the time (Nicky ??? -- can't remember the last name).

Why does Suzanne Farrell get so much more recognition as Balanchine's muse and interpreter?


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