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Suzanne Farrell


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Why do I admire Suzanne Farrell?

Probably because she worked so closly with George Balanchine (I study Balanchine technique), and probably also because I read her autobiography, Holding on to the Air, and when I heard everything about her life, that made me respect her even more. I saw her comany perform... I really liked Meditation...

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Suzanne Farrell was always be my favorite ballerina. She retired some time ago but made a lasting impression. I remember everything she did in LA VALSE, DIAMONDS, APOLLO and VIENNA WALTZES. It is hard to watch others dance her parts, which can be painful with NYCB's inappropriate casting practices. With Suzanne it went beyond her incredible techinque, for she knew how to phrase the choreography. Making ballet look spontaneus is not easy, but she did.

It is for these reasons that she is such a valuable teacher and caretaker of the Balanchine repertory. That her former partner (and they were perfect together) doesn't recognize this is infuriating.

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Patricia, I, too find it hard to watch other dancers perform the roles you cited. It's the post-Bejart Farrell that I miss seeing. It was her cool exterior (with restrained intensity!), and her penchant for rarely smiling that attracted me to her. Farrell was never "about technique"--although, to be sure it was formidable. I rarely thought about the "steps" when watching her.

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I too am a big fan of Farrell -- though i was not at first, she seemed stuck-up to me, I preferred Patricia McBride......

Then I started to notice how extremely musical Farrell was, and then I started to notice that she'd be smiling -- to herself -- when she was facing upstage, and she'd wipe the smile off when she faced us again, and that intrigued me. Intrigued me no end..... and then I started to notice how witty her dancing was, and how fascinating her timing was, and again, HOW MUSICAL....

THE PBS video -biography of her has many clips of her dancing, and you all should see her in the two selections from Don Quixote, it is simply unbelievable, the dancing is so spontaneous, she's like smoke -- it is THE GREATEST DANCING I've myself ever seen....THis video may be available in your public library -- check it out....

[ March 19, 2002, 09:20 PM: Message edited by: Paul Parish ]

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Farrell has always been my ultimate favorite dancer. As I wrote under the Don Q. thread, I decided was I was very young, after seeing her picture in an old magazine article my parents gave me on Balanchine, that she would be my favorite. After she returned to the company, I scanned the schedule for nights I guessed she would be dancing (the ones with her ballets on them) and pestered my parents to take me. Later I went on my own, including all performances of her last week.

Like others here, I adored her musicality, daring, technical ability, intellegence, on-stage demeanor and spirituality. Her look was lovely --long points that headed right up her straight calf and full, eloquent thighs. And as Croce put it once, in the black-and-white ballets, she looked like a big bee.

In addition to all the things we've said here, I loved that she challenged her partner and her audience. She never did things the same. You really had to watch her. She surprised you in ballets you thought you knew.

blizzardqueen336 -- If you don't have it already, try to get hold of Balanchine's Ballerinas; Conversations with the Muses. It contains a wonderful interview with Farrell and all the other muses. A must if you're studying Balanchine technique.

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The pre-Bejart Farrell didn't smile even at curtain calls. This used to bother my wife who would mutter under her breath, "Smile, Suzanne!" while we continued to applaud. After Farrell's return to NYCB she was an even better dancer and became more of an audience favorite. Although she never had a goofy grin on her face, she did smile at curtain calls and even during certain ballets. I remember how much whe seemed to enjoy leading the WRENS in Union Jack. Her performance in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue also got sexier and she made a more convincing stripper.

The two parts of Farrell's NYCB career coincided with two extraordinary partnerships, first with Jacques d'Amboise and then Peter Martins. In both halves, she also had other partners, notably Arthur Mitchell in the first half and Adam Luders in the second. While with the Bejart company her partner was Jorge Donn, who served again in that capacity when he was guest artist with NYCB in 1977. The video mentioned by Paul Parish is a documentary movie called Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse, and contains scenes from Bejart's Romeo and Juliet with Farrell and Donn. Most poignantly, in 1980 she was partnered again, and for the last time, by d'Amboise in Davidsbundlertanze. Their performance together will live forever in the memories of those who saw it. Fortunately, this too is available on video, a glorious relic of the short-lived CBS Cable.

Farrell's unpredictability on stage, her penchant for surprising the audience and her partner, noted here by Dale, was one of her hallmarks. But what was always predictable was that, no matter what, she would deliver a superb performance.

[ March 20, 2002, 03:26 PM: Message edited by: Farrell Fan ]

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I've always loved Farrell's inimitable stage presence: regal, aloof and very feminine. I'll never forget seeing her in Der Rosenkavalier -- she was just hauntingly beautiful. Her sang-froid used to annoy me when I was a kid, but I've grown to like and appreciate her style much more in the last 15 years.

I saw SF's Sugar Plum Fairy in the mid '80's and she danced beautifully. And I was pleasantly surprised during the waltz-coda to see that she was smiling -- grinning, in fact biggrin.gif .

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My first season watching ballet was Farrell's first post-Bejart season. (One of the things that's always intrigued me about Bejart is that, if he's really Ballet Satan, then how come Farrell grew so much when dancing with him? Ballet Satans -- no offense to Satan -- generally ruin, or at least stall, dancers. But I digress.)

One performance I remember from that season was a transcendentally glorious "Chaconne." It was one of the few performances of a Balanchine ballet I've ever seen that was deliberately -- and appropriately -- bravura, with Farrell doing entrechats six instead (I was told) of the usual quatres.

Pamela, I did see her in "Tzigane." It's not my favorite ballet, but I thought she was wonderful in performance.

My favorite Farrell performances include in addition to Chaconne: Diamonds, Vienna Waltzes, Davidsbundlertanze, Union Jack, and Mozartiana.

I agree that the footage on "The Elusive Muse" is phenomenal. It's as though she's dancing Balanchine's thoughts -- there's no impediment between his brain and her body.

I wish I could have seen her half-Swan Lake in Canada frown.gif

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I think with Bejart it was, although Farrell might disagree, a case of "that-which-does-not-kill-me-makes-me-stronger." What does one do if one's the lead ballerina in a company that doesn't need ballerinas? One either learns to fight to make the most of every meager opportunity thrown one's way, or one accepts fading into the background.

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I'm sure there were a lot of factors. Once Farrell said something to the effect that if she had only a grand battement to do, and had to do it eight times, then she had to figure out how to do them and make them interesting. That goes to Manhattnik's point. But, having seen dancers wither on the vine elsewhere, I can't help but think Bejart had something to do with it. And she certainly has been loyal to him. We'll see some more of his ballets in the future, with her company.

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Melissa, I'm sorry -- I didn't see your post when I was last here. Farrell danced "Swan Lake" with the National Ballet of Canada right after she first left NYCB. She didn't finish the performance. My memory is hazy -- cramp? Injury? I believe she finished the second act but could not dance the third. I hope someone who knows will correct this, or fill in the details.

You may enjoy this story about "Swan Lake," though. A couple of years ago, when Farrell was working with the Washington Ballet, she did a question and answer session with the audience after the performance. A VERY small girl -- she was sitting on her father's lap and looked, to me, to be about 5. Asked a question, "Have you ever danced Swan Lake?" Farrell said yes and turned to another question. The little girl wasn't finished. "But what was your very most favorite part?" she said. "The Swan Queen," said Farrell. The child, looking worried, as though she thought there might be another answer, smiled and said, "Oh, that's mine, too."

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It may be worth considering that she was Béjart's leading ballerina for about as many years that she had previously danced for Balanchine -- she wasn't just killing time. ( Not to mention the perhaps salutary effect of having both her mom and Mr. B out of the picture for awhile.) She does say in her book that there was an awkward moment when Béjart told her to look at the repertory and tell him what she wanted to dance, and Farrell's initial response was in effect, well, nothing actually. But she seems to have told herself, "I must perforce," as Shakespeare's characters are wont to say in less than ideal circumstances, and started trying things out. And, as William Weslow observed in "I Remember Balanchine": "With Béjart, she had to wear makeup." It's those little things.......

Melissa, I think Alexandra is referring to the incident where Farrell's knee popped in the middle of the Black Swan pas de deux, an incident she describes in her book. (Karen Kain recalls it also, in her book; she said she had noted earlier that Farrell was not turning out from the hip, making her susceptible to knee injury, Kain thought.) I'm sure Alexandra will correct me if I've got it wrong.

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I'll admit that, even after her return from Bejart, it took me awhile to "get" Farrell. I remember watching those amazing solos with the killer turning enchainements in Chaconne and thinking "But she's so off-balance. How does she do that and not kill herself?" Eventually I realized that that was the point of Farrell, or one of the points, her almost nonchalant bravura and awe-inspiring daring. Surely no dancer since has ever had the knack for diving into a penchee in the blink of an eye as Farrell could, and did so often, and so thrillingly. I look at videos of her from back when, and I'm still awe-struck at her sheer physical genius. I don' t know if you'd call her a killer technician like, say, Gelsey Kirkland, but the amazing things Farrell would surprise us with night after night went well beyond conventional technique.

I never found Farrell cold. Although I enjoyed watching her selling herself to the rafters in Tzigane or leading the Wrens in Union Jack, it was in her quieter, stiller moments she really won me over. When Farrell wasn't playing to the house, she had the look of someone undergoing a very intense, inwardly directed and spiritual experience. It seemed like she was praying almost every time she was onstage; in this sense the Preghiera in Mozartiana was a logical invocation of what Farrell had been for us all along. I was a bit gratified to read in her book that she often considered her dances to be prayers to Mr. B (in this case, not much difference between Balanchine and God, I think).

It was Farrell's great gift, greater even than her awesome technical prowess, that she could go off strolling in these vast internal landscapes of light and shadow, and take us with her to that special place she had inside her. It was a very rare privilege to watch her dance.

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All very interesting posts - thank you Blizzardqueen for starting it off! smile.gif I read her autobiography this fall and really enjoyed it...only wish I'd had the good fortune to see her dance in real life.

Can someone tell me why it was that when she came back to NYCB and Balanchine was dying that she eventually split off? Is it true that at one point she was a real possibility for being the head of NYCB? I think I've asked this one before but I don't think anyone answered.

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I think I have my dates correct. Farrell returned to NYCB from Belgium in 1974 and Balanchine dies in 1983. Farrell retired from dancing a few years later. Before Balanchine's death, Robbins and Martins were named co-ballet masters. (I think that is the correct title, don't hav a program handy.) Then Robbins retired and Martins was left as ballet master. Farrell was associated informally with NYCB for a few years after her retirement. Then apparently she and Martins had a falling out.

As far as I know, there was never any real possibility that Farrell would be appointed to run the company. Whether this was the right decision is something we can debate for weeks, maybe years.

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Thanks liebs, guess I'd forgotten some of the in between stuff. Perhaps my sources, other than the book, are those who'd take up "the cause" and be ready to carry on the debate while holding Suzanne Farrel's banner high... smile.gif

If the falling out was some sort of personal thing, I don't need to know...but if, on the other hand, it was related to the direction of NYCB after first Balanchine's and then Robbin's death, that would be interesting to hear about.

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Well, even if it's personal, I wouldn't mind knowing. smile.gif

Actually, according to an interview Martins gave to the late unlamented Talk magazine, it seems to have involved the disposition of the office furniture. I believe a sofa was mentioned.

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