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Suzanne Farrell


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Guest Angel2Be
And for those who don't believe film can capture the power of visual performance...I say it depends on the performer.

Yes, and I think Suzanne Farrell is exceptional in that way! The little 4-inch version of her on my TV somehow manages to enchant me, and that's not so for most tapings.

Suzanne Farrell is the ballerina who made me fall in love with ballet. :helpsmilie:

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gatto97, I can recall an article that appeared at the time of the original PBS broadcast, saying that about fifteen minutes had been cut, with the explanation from the PBS honchos that (I quote from memory, but this was hard to forget) "People aren't that interested."

And welcome to the board!

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Wow, I just found this board and this is exactly the topic I was looking for.

I wish I had the pleasure of seeing Farrell live, but alas, I have to resign myself to hours at the NY Public Library viewing tapes of past performances. Tape doesn't quite capture her energy which I always hear about though.

A request from a newbie.... more stories please!! you guys have just made my day!

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Gatto, let me add my welcome -- and please feel free to post your PBS topic!

LunaTick -- great name :ermm: -- welcome, too, and thanks! Check out our Dancers Forum. You'll see little tiny numbers at the top left, like this:

(13) [1] 2 3 ... Last »

Keep clicking -- there are a lot of topics about dancers there.

(If you don't see 13 pages, go down to the bottom of the topic list, and you'll see a menu box where you can choose to display topics "from the beginning."

Somebody on this board has seen just about any dancer you can think of (within the last 20, 30 years, that is!), so ask if you don't find something on someone who interests you, ask away!

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Here's a question for the NYCB old timers (coughfarrellfancough).

What was the general reaction to Farrell's book when it was first published? Not being around for her career, I really don't know how her relationship with Balanchine was perceived by the public and the otehr NYCB dancers. Was this book a revelation?? Or was most of it common knowledge by the time it came out? Did people ever "forgive" her for taking up all of Balanchine's time, or were the other dancers still upset with her?? (or were they REALLY ever upset with her... she suggests an alienation with the company due to her favored status, but was that true, or was it just her perception?)

Another thing, I guess I always assumed that she and Peter had problems throughout thier performing days, but it's really only hinted at in the book. Was she trying to be polite in her book, or were they realy on friendly terms during those days?

Edited by LunaTick
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Thanks for the opportunity to hold forth, Luna.

I don't think anything in Suzanne's book came as a revelation. The basic outline of her story was well known to most NYCB fans. The reaction of the critics was generally favorable, although I remember a review in Dance Magazine headed "Blonde Ambition" (I'm not making this up) which castigated the writing style as contrary to what Suzanne was like as a dancer. I don't know what other dancers felt about it, but the powers that be at NYCB went to extraordinary lengths to promote the book -- they had a book signing on the Promenade of the New York State Theater before the start of the 1990 season. (Suzanne had retired from dancing the previous year.) There was a phenomenal crowd -- it took well over an hour for the line to reach her at the table in front of the Nadelman sculptures. She

personalized each inscription. Ours read, "To Alice & Lou, With thanks for being in the audience -- all my love & best wishes. Suzanne Farrell 10. 04. 90" (Last year I took her the paperback to sign. That reads, To my dear, Lou -- With many years of Mr. B and ballet memories.")

My impression is that whatever resentment other dancers felt toward her was mostly limited to the period before she left to join Bejart. After her return to NYCB, some dancers were taken out of the roles they'd done in her absence, but still, I don't think there was much animosity. People were glad to have her back -- and Balanchine did not lavish ALL his attention on her as had been the case earlier. Again, I'm just going by impressions, but I think the partnership of Suzanne and Peter was a happy one. Too bad he eventually fired her.

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I believe what I was told not long after Farrell returned to NYCB, that a lot of the problems the other dancers had had when she was there before were about Balanchine's trying to get them to dance like her, highly unusual for him, and that in her absence he had reverted to developing each dancer's abilities (according to his interests), and had not changed when she returned. I gathered the company had been in something of a slump, including the box office, when her return perked things up, prompting one of the dancers - I remember being told it was Teena McConnell - to comment, "Suzanne's coming back is the nicest thing she's done for us since she left!"

But her relationship with Martins was sometimes clouded, as when he took to partnering her without looking at her, which presumably she knew and must have found disconcerting, to say the least. (I understand McConnell called this "Star Wars".) I remember we heaved a collective sigh of relief when this stopped, as mysteriously as it had begun. And his firing of her seemed to have been provoked by something critical about his running of NYCB she said in, I believe, an article by Don Daniels in "The New Yorker", which I have not been able to find, which she refers to in the introduction to the new, paperback edition of "Holding On to the Air", my copy of which I can't find either! So I can't be sure about this. (I tell myself I'm not "losing it", I'm just losing my library!)

As to "revelations", I remember some people wanted hints about physical intimacy between her and Balanchine, which I strongly doubted had occured nor would be revealed if it had; nor did I care nearly as much about that sort of thing as about any insights into Balanchine's ways of working, or his thoughts about his ballets, she might include. Having heard her response to a question at a panel discussion soon after his death and still considering it the best statement I know of on the subject of the question ("What was Balanchine's theory of aesthetics?" or some such), I had some expectations, and her autobiography, while very taking on the personal level, exceeded my hopes that it might enliven my perceptions of his art. It does that every couple of pages! For me, then, no "revelations", exactly, but fresh discoveries, even about some things I had thought were familiar.

Edited by Jack Reed
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I understood that things weren't all roses with her peers when she returned, although the situation never reverted to the 1960s crisis level. The New Yorker article Jack refers to is, I think, David Daniel's "In Balanchine's Footsteps," in which Farrell went public with her underemployment by the company and the complaints of others regarding the state of the Balanchine repertory were aired, including reports of Martins quarreling with Karin von Aroldingen.

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[beanie on] Just for the record, we should be careful about sourcing attributed comments, which I realize gets harder when all one's reference books are hiding. The quote about Farrell attributed to McConnell is also (I think, I'm not near my books either) quoted in a slightly different form in the Taper Balanchine bio to an anonymous dancer. And we've heard it attributed to someone else entirely, too. [beanie off]

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The reaction of the critics was generally favorable, although I remember a review in Dance Magazine headed "Blonde Ambition" (I'm not making this up) which castigated the writing style as contrary to what Suzanne was like as a dancer.

Farrell's co-author for Holding on to the Air was Toni Bentley, a former NYCB dancer who had previously written a short memoir called Winter Season. The writing style was recognizably Bentley's, and I would agree with the reviewer that it is 180 degrees from Farrell's style as a dancer.

If Farrell does decide to write another book, I hope she chooses a different, more skilled co-author.

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I read Farrell's book long before I ever saw her dance (and then only on tape of course). When I first read her book, I was fairly younf, so perhaps that's why the writing style never bothered me. After seeing "Elusive Muse" and some other tapes of her dancing, I revisited the book and fell in love with it all over again. This time I found the writing style to be almost humorous.. very tongue in cheek I guess.

My question is: How could she possibly write like she danced?? It's so cliche, but it reminds me of "how can you hold a cloud and pin it down" :wink: I don't see how she could possibly have translated her dancing style into a literary style. I like that the way that she writes (or Toni writes) is simple and almost sing-songy. If her biography had an "elusive" quality like her dancing, I don't know that I would enjoy it that much. What I connceted to was the human quality the book shows, the way she took this myth that was "Suzanne Farrell" and made her into just plain Suzanne Farrell.

It inspires me to think all things are possible (now how cliche is THAT!!) :)

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Lunatick wrote (My question is: how could she possibly write like she danced??)

You took the words right out of my mouth! I've read the book several times (in fact the binding is ready to turn to dust), and I find the narrative to be amusing and very down to earth. I suspect that is how Ms. Farrell is in real life. She was so many things when she danced, Goddess, Muse, Gypsy, Chic, Sexy, Remote. How on earth do you translate that to a writing style?

I also rather like Toni Bentley as a writer. I've read all four of her books, and find her writing style to be insightful and human, she also has a wicked sense of humor.

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My question is:  How could she possibly write like she danced?? 

A shining example of how it can be done is Margot Fonteyn's autobiography.

You are who you are. There is an inner pulse that can't help but express your individuality, no matter through what medium. There is a consistency of temperament, of humor, of whatever. And whatever that quality is in Farrell, many of the posters above missed it in her book.

Which does not mean that it wasn't worth reading. It just didn't feel like it came from the dancer we knew.

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I can remember a couple of reviewers saying something to the effect of "it doesn't sound like her." Not in relation to her dancing – just that the tone was off, somehow. And it is true that, even with ghostwritten or assisted autobiographies, the "voice" of the person can come through. I'm not sure it did with Farrell's book. As carbro says, that doesn't make it less valuable or not worth reading.

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carbro and dirac's above postings have given me food for thought and also some questions?

If you're reading a dancers autobiography, should the narrative or tone reveal or shed light on her real life everyday self, or on her dance persona?

I have read Margot Fonteyn's book and agree that it's writing style is close to her dance style. Another example is Maria Tallchief's book. Although I never saw her dance in person, it seems like her dance style is very close to her writing style.

So, if dance persona=writing style, what should have Suzanne Farrell's books narrative been like? I hope this all makes sense. Just tell me whould have made the book better for you.

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One of the things I remember from that Dance Magazine review I brought up was the reviewer's unhappiness with the phrase Avant Scene as the heading for the prelude to Chapter One (Sorry, I can't make the accent mark over the first e in Scene.), and Entr'acte for the last two pages. He implied they were things Suzanne, the all-American ballerina, would never say. I found his attitude condescending. Perhaps the problem is that we fans like to imagine what Suzanne is really like -- the Elusive Muse syndrome. Toni Bentley is a very good writer and she did an excellent job helping Suzanne put her memories into words.

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I'd offer that some people conform to carbro's description, and some don't. And some experienced writers seem different people in different works, or different passages, even. Getting back to Farrell, in my limited experience of her speaking, she's been quite simple, direct, idiomatic, graceful, and unaffected. Is her dancing like that? Yes, but, more, there's a certain reckless energy in her dancing I don't notice in "her" writing. (Not that speaking and writing are the same thing, either.) Now if there is this difference, why? Bentley? Or that her dance training was a lot better than her writing training? Or, of course, both. I don't doubt for a minute that what she wanted said went into the book and what she wanted omitted was. But how it was said, the style, could well be different from what we see in her dancing.

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as the reviewer in question being called condescending in FF's post, i would like to clarify: my point in reviewing TB's SF book was that knowing what i knew of farrell at the time, i could not imagine HER saying such phrases - while i hadn't had exentesive exposure to farrell's actual 'voice,' i had some and based my assessment of phraseology in her autobiography on that feeling, i don't recall saying (or thinking) that any/all all-american ballerinas were incapable of using such wording. my point was not to express condescension toward farrell or any other ballerinas, american or otherwise, but to say that to ME such usage rang FALSE as farrell's voice.

i've had some little further exposure to farrell's voice since that time and while i MIGHT write a different review today of this book, i don't see that my feelings on this particular point would have changed at all.

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A shining example of how it can be done is Margot Fonteyn's autobiography.

I am not quite sure what you mean. I have Fonteyn's autobiography, and I felt it was evasive. (she didn't have too much to say about Lambert or Petit). Does this mean I thought her dancing was evasive? It has been a few years since I have read it, but I can see it's time for a re-reading.

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I have been reading this thread with some interest as it has veered into the most intriguing question of whether a dancer's true style is reflected in their writing.

I once saw Norman Mailer dance at a wedding and felt that he was not being truthful to himself as a writer in the way he danced. I was quite disappointed.

I believe it was Steve Martin who said, " Talking about art is like dancing about architecture."

To this I might add: Writing about dance is like singing with your feet.

With a wink,


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