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Is there such a thing as a Suzanne Farrell style?


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We're heading down to Brooklyn today to see Suzanne Farrell's company and wondered if we should expect to see some different touches in the dancing?

I know there's a thread all about her company on another forum...but I wanted to throw this out to the general audience...and see if one would consider hers to be "a style" or not.

Farrell Fan are you out there? :thumbsup:

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Others may feel differently on this, but no, I don't see a company style. I'm not talking about Farrell's dancing, but about the company itself. It's a pickup group; she doesn't get to work with these dancers consistently, and they came from just about anywhere and everywhere. Even so, it would be possible to detect something consistent about the dancers were it there. I don't think I would look at those dancers later and they way they move, watch them and say, "I wonder if s/he worked with Suzanne."

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Thanks Leigh, I understand your points...and I guess I should have thought of that aspect - the pick up group one. Although I never have seen Ms. Farrell dance, except on videos, I suppose I was imagining her coaching her dancers to perform in certain ways... :clapping: Does this make any sense?

What I'm getting at is that someone will see NYCB perform and the generalization is that the dancers have a different way of executing a particular step.. that would be different from, for example, the way a Bolshoi ballet dancer might... Perhaps I'm just confusing my question ever more by this? :thumbsup:

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I don't think you're confusing your question, BW. Still, no. I didn't see it, though others may disagree. And yes, Peter was quite wonderful, but I don't think it makes sense to factor him into a company style. Peter does an awful lot of guest work, he's pretty much independent of the small companies he works with. If anything, he rubs off on them more than the other way around.

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Yes, there's a style. It's a pick up group in that the dancers don't have a full year's contract -- and this definitely inhibits the group's development, as does her limited choice of dancers -- but most of them have been with Farrell for several years and many of the younger ones come from her summer program. Obviously I haven't seen this year's program yet, but last season, Divert and Raymonda Variations, especially (as the two full group pieces we saw here) had a very distinct style, the one that Farell had learned in the 1960s (according to several teacher/critic colleagues of mine in DC who had seen NYCB and Farrell, of course, during that time.)

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I think Farrell's company has gone beyond being a pickup group, a term which implies casting whatever dancers are available. This is Jennifer Fournier's third season with the company; Chan Hon Goh's fourth season; Runqiao Du's fourth as well; Natalia Magnicaballi has been with Suzanne since 1999. As for Peter Boal, this is his third season with the Farrell Ballet, but he's actually been dancing for Suzanne since 1995 when he did Mozartiana and Scotch Symphony during "Suzanne Farrell Stages Balanchine" at the Kennedy Center. He says he loves dancing for Suzanne. Nevertheless, I agree with Leigh that his style rubs off on other dancers more than vice versa. But from what I saw last night at NJPAC, the company has started to jell as a recognizable entity. Don't ask me to describe it though, other than "very very good."

Yes, that 's Magnicaballi in the Tsigane costume, pictured with Momchil Mladenov, another veteran of the Farrell Ballet.

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In my experience, a good director will be able to get dancers to dance the way he/she wants in significant ways, even in just one season. Dancer turnover is often high in small companies (and even in many large companies; witness the recent YEARS of chaos at Boston Ballet), but to label a group "pickup" just because it's small is somewhat insulting. It demeans the director's ability to get what he/she wants. It degrades the hard work put in by the dancers who have been there year after year and who form the core of the company's artistic personality. In this case, it also degrades the hard work Farrell has put in to build a training program --- not at all the norm for a small company.

To suggest that Peter Boal has a greater influence on the dancing that Suzanne Farrell, even though he's only there briefly to guest, is also insulting. Peter Boal is certainly a great dancer ---- but so was Suzanne Farrell, and she DOES run the company. I consider any dancer who gets to dance with her to be rather lucky.

I am therefore not surprised that people who have seen Ms. Farrell's company say it dances with a consistent style. I would not expect anything less from someone of her caliber. It is the ONLY way a small company such as hers could attract and maintain national attention for as long as it has.

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I don't think anyone was implying that Boal has had a greater influence on the SFB than Farrell, citibob. His name came up in the discussion of whether Farrell's style has influenced her dancers, of which he is one. Leigh said he thought that Boal was more likely to influence other dancers than to be influenced by Farrell, that's all.

Boal is such a fully formed dancer that any influence Farrell (or anyone else) might have on him is likely to be less noticeable than it would be on a younger and less experienced dancer. But since he continues to work with her, it must be a rewarding relationship for him.

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Gosh, pickup is just a descriptive term. Almost all of my dancers have worked with me multiple times, year after year. We're still a pickup company. They only work with me a portion of the year, when and if I have the work (no, I am not comparing my company to Farrell's) and they work with many other people as well. At least two of Farrell's soloists have worked with me, for instance. I don't consider "pickup" an insult, though. You can see development and improvement in some of Farrell's repeat dancers (Bonnie Pickard comes right to mind) but for me, when Farrell's dancers are exclusively hers, when Fournier and Goh don't dance with NBoC 8 months of the year and Farrell on their off time, for instance, then she's not pickup.

And yes, directors have gotten clear stylistic choices and consistency out of pickup groups. But for me, that wasn't what I saw last night. I saw a decent performance with varying levels of ability and style. Was it good or bad is a different question, but if the question was, did it have a specific style? No, not from what I saw.

OK, I have to close up my suitcase and get on a plane, so I'm being cowardly and bowing out of this discussion!

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I saw the company both in Princeton and, yesterday, at NJPAC, and it was precisely the consistency of style, which surprised and delighted me most. They have wonderfully pulled up and open upper bodies; the movement has range, attack, breath, beautiful, finished phrasing, and a unified sense of purpose. They look like a company. Perhaps some of the dancers don’t have the polish of an NYCB, but the ballets haven’t looked this alive in ages.

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If the question is, did all the dancers in each piece look like they were doing the same ballet, and specifically that ballet? Emphatically yes.

Roma speaks for me. Farrell's values of musicality and spontenaiety were abundantly evident. I had a fabulous time. Fabulous. :clapping:

I will also note that Boal's Apollo was magnificent. I'd never seen him give it the wealth of integrated details and power that he showed last night.

Special kudos, too, to Ms. Parsley for her freshness and joy in Divert.

Edited by carbro
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Carbro, I'm glad you thought that much about Mr. Boal's performance. That is the first time I ever saw him. Ironically I tried to see him on 2 other occasions and missed him (once at JOyce theater in something choreographed by Evans and was detained and another time in Leigh's show but a tornado kept me away!)

Yesterday, I didn't expect to see him and he was there. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least.

(Farrell Fan, thanks for the feedback.)

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I saw some consistency among the dancers last night but it wasn't to the good. Divert was marred by flapping arms and broken wrists, blurred or left out steps and a failure to get into a the tight sousou position that is a foundation of Balanchine's work. There was also a consistent look of tightness or tension among the dancers, which I found distressing.

That said, I enjoyed Tzigane and thought Natalie's performance much improved over the one I saw at the New Victory. Apollo was good, Boal giving a terrific performance with adequate performances by the Muses. Parsley just looked embarassed as Leto.

It was a pleasure to see Ritter dancing so beautifully. He had the elegance Du lacked. Du seemed to think he was in some bus and truck performance of Coppelia, dancing a rather crude rendition of Franz.

Variations should be retired. It was well suited to Farrell's gifts, which included an ability to be on and off balance at the same time as well as an ability to link vastly differing steps into a coherent phrase. Variations is built around these talents and Parsley doesn't have them. Nor is she a very interesting dancers. She gave it her all in the fifth variation of Divert but was hopelessly outclassed - blurring or leaving out steps.

One of the great things about Farrell as a dancer, and I saw her many times from her return to NYCB in the 70s to her retirement, was her acute theatrical sense. But I didn't see that last night either in her direction of the program or in her coaching of the dancers. It was a nice evening with a decent regional company but certainly didn't offer any revelations either in the setting of the ballets or the performances of the dancers.

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What Farrell's dancers lacked the last time I saw them wasn't the Farrell style, which no one has ever had or ever will have except Farrell, but consistent training in Balanchine style. That's why "First, a school, " and that's why one would expect the dancers to look more consistent over time with her. I rather doubt it is Farrell's goal to make dancers look like her (how futile would that be?). What struck me on the wonderful work she did at the Washington Ballet some years ago was--this in particular with Helene Alexopolis and Maria Calegari, who were guesting--was how much she made them look very particularly like themselves, which was very beautiful indeed. (Not to wander off topic out of parentheses: I am sorry I missed this incarnation of Peter Boal's Apollo. My own feeling about Apollos is that studying with Stanley Williams or being Danish enhances the performance. I have to say that the greatest Apollo I ever saw was Peter Martins. Before you throw anything at me, I once heard Maria Tallchief say that "Peter WAS Apollo.")

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Since the recent performances of the Farrell Ballet seem to have been subsumed into this topic -- did anyone make it back from Brooklyn? How'd you like the show?

I also can't resist asking whether "a decent regional company" has more status than a pickup group. And Shannon Parsley had no reason to look embarrassed as Leto, since Lisa Reneau danced the role.

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From the DanceView Times:

Two reviews of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet:

By Eric Taub

Hit and Miss

What a difference a day makes! After seeing the Suzanne Farrell Ballet perform Saturday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ, if someone had asked me: is Suzanne Farrell were truly the inspired coach and Keeper of the Balanchine Flame she's often been made out to be, my answer would have been, probably not. Her dancers' performances were, for the most part, conservative, flat and markedly free of the risk-taking which was ever a hallmark of Farrell's own style. What can you say about a performance of Divertimento No. 15 where the corps girls seemed more interesting than most of the soloists? True, Peter Boal danced the greatest Apollo I've ever seen, but he's, well, Peter Boal, and what else would one expect?

Sunday afternoon, Farrell's company performed the same program, with the same cast, at Brooklyn College's Walt Whitman Hall, and the effect was greatly different. Although much about the performance was still problematic, the dancers, whether from fatigue or lack of opening-night stress (as NJPAC was their first exposure to New-York-area audiences this year), were less tentative, and, while too often discretion remained the better part of the Farrell dancers' valor (as when soloists discreetly omitted the more difficult bits of some solos in Divertimento), the ballets breathed more, and occasionally you could indeed feel a lightness and freedom which indeed brought to mind the later years of New York City Ballet under Balanchine.

And the other by Mindiy Aloff, in her weekly Letter:

Letter from New York

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed twice in the New York area this weekend. Much to my regret, work prevented me from attending the Sunday performance at Brooklyn College. It was a thrill and an honor, though, to be part of the audience for the all-Balanchine evening on Saturday at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts. A cherished honor, since the rich variety of dynamic texture, the stylistic refinement, and the musicality of the dancing in Divertimento No. 15 and in Apollo (presented in the original New York City Ballet staging, which includes the birth and childhood of the god, as well as Igor Stravinsky’s complete score) are now superb and may be peerless. Despite the fact that certain enchaînement may be textually questionable, the hearts of the ballets are intact. Even the costumes, credited to Holly Hynes—the current Director of Costumes for NYCB and the costume consultant for the George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins trusts, as well as the resident designer for the Farrell Ballet since the company’s inception in 1999—look as if they’ve been slightly rethought since I last saw them.

Or is it the new level of the performances that makes the costumes look renewed? This is the life and breathtaking care with which I remember these two ballets being danced at NYCB during the 1970s; this is the Balanchine that drove me to the New York State Theater night after night, regardless of casting or whether a dancer could nail her pirouettes every time. In previous New York-area seasons of the Farrell Ballet, this is the level of dancing that I’d hoped to witness and never quite did. This is the argument for dancing as an ongoing process of growth and discovery—from performance to performance, from season to season—rather than as an end-stopped product that has been laminated for fixed presentation. This is also the aspect of Farrell’s enterprise that makes a balletgoer miserable over the economic necessity for the company to tour with taped music, which has the effect of placing the ballets behind bars when they should be running wild. As another theatergoer mentioned, to Farrell’s credit she chose recordings that were demanding of the dancers in terms of tempi and articulation.

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My apologies to Ms. Parsley. The performer dancing Leto looked embarassed by what she was required to do. It is difficult to do this role, I imagine. Small but crucilal and probably not first on the list for rehearsal time, whihc is always limited. And you are up on that platform.

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Yes, FF, we went to Brooklyn - and even made it home without getting lost in Prospect Park!

I've decided not to read the two reviews posted above because I didn't want them to taint my own reactions to yesterday's matinee. OK, I do see that Eric Taub was apparently in Brooklyn too, so I won't give you a play by play.

I loved it and am really glad we made the hike to get there. Initially had hoped to go to NJPAC but couldn't...the only sad part about it all is that our daughter, the ballet student, was unable to make this one too.

Divertimento No. 15 was the perfect opening piece - full of light and life. The music and the choreography seemed to be what I would consider quintessential Balanchine and in my view they danced it beautifully and looked incredibly happy to be dancing it - their faces glowed. I'm not sure who felt Runqiao Du didn't do well, or perhaps it was in another piece during a different performance because he looked strong to me, as did the other dancers in this ballet, as well.

I really should have written my thoughts down last night so I could react closer to the moment.

I didn't care for Variations for Orchestra though I found the silhouette dancer to be kind of interesting...from what I've read here it sounds as if this particular ballet has got to be very difficult to have anyone dance to due to Ms. Farrell's original knock out performance.

Tzigane was my favorite...or perhaps it was a tie between it and Divertimento No. 15? I'd never seen Tzigane before and I thought Natalia Magnicaballi's portrayal was fantastic - what a beautiful woman and she was just right for this gypsy role. And Monchil Mladenov was her perfect match! I'm sure if I knew more, I'd be able to speak to the obvious character dance incorporated into this ballet, but alas I cannot. Although by now the program was getting on in the sense of time, due to a late start, and there was very little, if any air conditioning on in the theater, Ms. Magnicaballi's sultry looks, which seemed to be made for her costume, and everyone's energetic dancing kept me wide awake throughout!

Apollo - another ballet that I'd never seen before. Peter Boal was excellent and looked as though he were a god. I thought the three muses were also very believable - Bonnie Pickard, Natalia Magnicaballi and Jennifer Fournier... obviously due to the role of Terpsichore, Ms. Fournier had the most dancing of the three... I enjoyed all three, their dancing and interactions with Apollo - especially towards the end of the piece. From my neophyte's point of view, it's an unusual ballet and - although I am afraid to even suggest this - I felt that some parts of the piece felt awkward for today, and I wondered if Balanchine were still alive, if he might not have changed it a bit? Additionally, I found Apollo's playing of the lute to be rather overkill at times. Hope you'll forgive me for saying this. :sweating: I love the Greek myths but there was something about his wind up on several occasions that just struck me as a bit too much.

Which brings me to poor Leto's giving birth scene... That has got to be a tough one too. Lisa Reneau looked absolutely beautiful as she writhed in childbirth...up on that scaffolding that kept making me think we were going to see a hanging any minute. Really, she is quite stunning. Yet, I have to ask - in the original staging, or in what is normally done today, is the stairway to heaven like the one they used in their Brooklyn performance? I found it to be ugly and it seemed old fashioned as in what once was considered avant-garde. And when I saw Peter Boal - mummy style - with his eyes blazing from between his wraps, I couldn't help but think of Damien Woetzel in that piece by Feld. I understand the birth analogy...but was glad when it was over. However, now that I've given my negative reactions, I will say that the ending as Apollo led his muses up the stairway to heaven - really was a tremendously powerful image and a great ending. By this time I'd been mesmerized and transported from Brooklyn to somewhere in the clouds.

My only regret was that I hadn't boned up on these ballets ahead of time. Am I correct that Tzigane was "made on" Suzanne Farrell orginally?

I also want to say that I appreciate everyone's responses to my inital question on this thread. It's been very helpful for me to read your posts, and, slowly, I'm beginning to catch on to things ballet.

I especially enjoy reading the reactions to Ms. Farrell's company and their dancing in comparison to how she danced the same ballets. Of course we can't really expect any dancer to dance the way another would or did. Nanatchka expresses what I'm after much better than I when she wrote:

I rather doubt it is Farrell's goal to make dancers look like her (how futile would that be?). What struck me on the wonderful work she did at the Washington Ballet some years ago was--this in particular with Helene Alexopolis and Maria Calegari, who were guesting--was how much she made them look very particularly like themselves, which was very beautiful indeed.
And I believe she achieved this with her current company in Brooklyn yesterday! :)

P.S. It was great to see Alexander Ritter dancing, as well!

Edited by BW
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Thanks for the report, BW. I'm glad you made it back from Brooklyn safely, and enjoyed the day. When you get around to reading Eric Taub and Mindy Aloff, you'll see that Taub, who was both at NJPAC and Brooklyn performances, thought the latter much better. I was perfectly happy with the NJPAC performance, but wish I could heve gone to Brooklyn, too. I very much enjoyed Mindy Aloff's review of NJPAC (she couldn't go to Brooklyn either), and was particularly grateful for her remarks on "Variations." I feel the same way as she about Farrell's addition of the shadow, but was unable to articulate my reasons until I read this review. In this connection, last year at the Kennedy Center I told Suzanne, "I like what you did with the shadow in 'Variations'." She smiled and said, "Do you? So do I."

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In this connection, last year at the Kennedy Center I told Suzanne, "I like what you did with the shadow in 'Variations'." She smiled and said, "Do you? So do I."

And so do I. I did not find the Shadow distracting, to the contrary, I thought her occasional appearance provided a contrast between variations. The device made it easier to see the choreography.

Aloff's piece largely speaks for me. I would just add my disappointment over Tzigane. I never expect to see the solo danced again the way Farrell danced it -- Balanchine clearly utilized her unique ability to withdraw to a very private place and project that -- but I missed the battle of the sexes between the partners. Saturday's was a flirtation, and I missed the friction we tasted with Farrell & Martins. This production dresses the men in red tones, which harmonize with women's costumes, whereas the tension seen with the original green accentuates the disharmony. Perhaps this is an aspect of Tzigane that Farrell has overlooked? Or was she reinterpreting?

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