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I'd never been to a Farewell performance before, so I was quite struck by the Kyra Nichols farewell. It was so much more than just a performance... more a ritual of passage with more witnesses than most weddings (I hope!). The subject was even dressed in white. The whole house was filled with emotion that had little to do with the choreography, although that was beautifully danced. When in Der Rosenkavelier, Kyra was up there seemingly waltzing with her memories, it was as if the whole audience was up there with her.

I remember the discussion on a pre-Ballet Alert board of Heather Watt's farewell, of someone who had been unaware beforehand of the ritual they were about to witness (it may even have been the first ballet they went to), and how awed they had been. At the time, reading only the discussion, I thought the reaction a little overblown. Now I understand.

Are they all the same? Like weddings, no matter how different the setting, the emotions that brim up spring from the same instinct?

I'm sure there are Ballet Alerters who attended both Ferri & Nichols' farewells (& Bussell & Barker?). Were they very different experiences?

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No, they are not all the same. I don't think there will ever be a farewell the likes of Suzanne Farrell (whose last dance was also Der Rosenkavalier, as too, was Stephanie Saland's). To so many, she embodied Balanchine, and losing her was like losing him again.

It's best when, like Kyra, the dancer can choose her/his time to retire. It was so sad when Merrill Ashley returned to the stage after an injury that kept her away for two years. She danced two or three performances her final season, a mere shell of her former self, before her farewell. It was all because, as she told an interviewer, she so badly wanted to have the ritual. I did not attend. Nor did I attend Heather Watts'.

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I used to have both Sunday night subscriptions to NYCB, and, for some reason, Sunday night, 7pm, was when a number of final performances took place. Of the Principal dancers, I saw Tomasson's, Farrell's, McBride's, Luders's, and Horiuchi's last performances. Luders (Act II Divertissement) and Horiuchi (Oberon) retired from NYCB at the same, otherwise regular performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and IIRC, Tomasson also retired with a regular program. McBride's and Farrell's programs were created separately for them.

Farrell's was after her hip replacement surgery, and her rep and movement were necessarily limited by then, although she gave luminous performances. McBride was probably more technically able than Nichols at that point, but from what I saw of Nichols just a few years ago, her most famous roles were much lighter than Nichols's and didn't have the same sense of loss and farewell as Nichols's final program.

From all accounts, Bussell retired at her peak, and I can attest that Barker did as well. There's a different feeling between a dancer that you know should retire, if not absolutely this year, certainly within the near future, than when you think a dancer has a number of years left, and can tailor his/her remaining career to them, the way Nichols did.

I don't know whether Barker had any regrets in the morning -- although her plans were to go to Hawaii for a five-week vaaction with her husband, former PNB Principal Dancer Michael Auer, so she's probably not hurting too badly :) -- but she went out with a complete triumph at the very top of her technical and interpretive powers, and with all of her current partners: Pas de Trois from Le Corsaire, with a series of fouettes performed with preternatural seeming ease that barely travelled, (partners Casey Herd and Stanko Milov), a glorious Titania pas de deux with the also already missed Christophe Maraval, performed after a classically beautiful Oberon's "Scherzo" danced by Jonathan Porretta -- I supposed after the demands of State of Darkness the night before, this piece was vacation for Porretta, who later performed in the first Agon Pas de Trois -- Agon Pas de Deux, with her characteristic geometric elegance and proportion (with Olivier Wevers) -- and Act IV of Swan Lake with Jeffrey Stanton. After a massive ovation, and many tears in the audience, she and Stanko Milov returned for the Swan Lake Act II Pas de Deux, by which point, there was very audible weeping.

One by one, Peter Boal, her partners and then her husband presented her with flowers, as single stems were thrown by the audience. She could have stayed for many years.

The most poignant farewell for me, though, was McBride's. At the very end of her program, she danced the harp(?) solo from Harlequinade, which ends quietly downstage with a simple curtsey to the audience.

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The most poignant farewell for me, though, was McBride's. At the very end of her program, she danced the harp(?) solo from Harlequinade, which ends quietly downstage with a simple curtsey to the audience.
I remember seeing in the playbill that the final piece would be that variation. A variation? To end a program??? Seemed strange, but I remember the last thing as two kisses blown to the audience -- maybe just before? or just after? the curtsey.

It was perfect.

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The day after Farrell's farewell, the New York Daily News,a paper not noted for its dance coverage, ran an emotional editorial about Suzanne's last entrance in Vienna Waltzes. I don't know what became of my copy, but I still get chills thinking about it. One more thing: My wife and I were sitting a few seats away from the great Alexandra Danilova, who though eternally youthful, was no longer chronologically young. Madame rose to her feet at the first curtain call, and remained standing and applauding throughout the long, long ovations which followed. The continuity of this great art was never better demonstrated.

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