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Showings of 1965 Performance Film of Balanchine's "Don Quixot

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(from Washington, DC) Now I've seen it. The film we've been hearing about, yes, yes; and the ballet! What the visits to Farrell's revival turn out to have been preparing me for, although I didn't know it at the time. But I suppose I might have anticipated that: After all, what could be more revealing of this ballet than Farrell's own performance in it? So, intellectually, I might have anticipated it, but now I have the actual experience, and I don't think I could have anticipated that if I tried.

Yes, it's that good: This film, with all its supposed technical faults, shows this ballet better than any of the ballet material I've seen on screen for some time - I'm thinking of the Live from Lincoln Center "Mozart Dances", the "Nureyev: The Russian Years" documentary, and the POB "Jewels" DVD. Without color, or stereo sound, sometimes without even an image on the screen, this film gives a more powerfully effective experience of a ballet than any of those and quite a few others besides. To a great extent, the reason is the power of the performance, sure, but we can see it most of the time, and that's never a given; it's not so much diminished by the recording as is too often the case.

I feel I have much more to say than I'll get said in this post, but I'll try to start with the beginning: Before the premiere showing in the Terrace Theatre of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts here last night, Jaqueline Davis, the Executive Director of the New York Public Library's Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center spoke for Michelle Potter, the Curator of the film, who was ill. She told us the restoration was finished in June this year, used material shot by Bert Stern in 1965 using two cameras, on which the music was out of synch. Some of the film was quite dark,and the sound was afflicted with buzz and hum despite the efforts of the sound lab.

Suzanne Farrell spoke next, pointing out that Balanchine's performances were rare, so that there were lots of closeups of him. She had never seen the film until Balanchine died, and it became hers. She was worried about cutting to closeups and "destroying the dance". "If that's bad, blame me." [As though we could!]

Farrell described with some affection, I thought, a few details of Balanchine's appearance: In Act II, he gets restless as the applause goes on, trying to look into the wings, as though wondering, "Where is she?" [after one of the Divertissements]. In Act III, after Dulcinea has laid the improvised cross on Don Quixote and is kneeling by his deathbed, "he takes my hands and pats them -- very sweet -- even though he's supposed to be dead."

It was strange to see yourself so big on screen. This is very special. Thank you for coming.

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Great to hear about this, Jack. Was there any mention of the possibility of wider distribution?

I've just started a newly published book, The Grand Surprise: the Journals of Leo Lerman, which has quite a lot about ballet figures in NYC from the 50s through the 80s. He wrote the following about Balanchine:

June 24, 1972, New York City. George Balanchine is interested in staging ballets for people now -- not in the future. "I'm absolutely not concerned. There will be different people then. I don't want my ballets preserved for people to laugh at what used to be."
Your review shows that Balanchine was wrong. Those who control his images have, in my opinion, the obligation to make something like this widely available.
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I agree with Jack -- it is an out-of-this-world movie! What a treasure of a film. First of all, I was floored by the zest and technical capabilities of virtually all of the soloists, not just Farrell. The dancers of the Act II divertissements could all hold their own in the NYCB of 2007; cynics may even dare say that they would surpass most of the current NYCB soloists?

Balanchine's Don is very touching and it was a hoot to see all of the little moments that Farrell had warned us about in the preview talk. Farrell hereself? INCREDIBLE! Now I totally understand the Farrell Phenomenon, seeing this complete ballet of her while still in her teens, dancing with far greater abandon than she did in the late 70s/early 80s, when I got to know her. (Not that she was not pretty darn magnificent in the 70s/80s.)

With apologies to the dancers in the recent Farrell Troupe's reconstruction, those 2005 dancers tried their best but simply do not hold a candle to the 1965 NYCB cast. Now I honestly LOVE this ballet. Ten 'WOW's! Run -- don't walk -- to the NY Public Library for that showing.

p.s. - Half of the fun was seeing the bows and hearing the emotional ovation from the audience. It's all in this film. I must confess that I had tears during some sections, just thinking that I was sitting among the second audience to ever see this performance...almost as if I were experiencing an evening at the NY State Theater in 1965. And it was great fun to 'applaud' along with the 1965 audience. After Farrell's Act III solo, most of the people in the Terrace Theater had set aside their shyness and 'got into the spirit,' applauding with vigor, as if the live performance were happening right there.

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(from Washington, DC) Natalia's impressions are certainly mine. Today I wondered when the line on the sidewalk would start to form for the NYC showing. Meanwhile, shall I see if I can share some more of it with you?

Farrell having finsihed her brief remarks, the theatre darkened, dim titles rolled unsteadily up the screen -- I thought, nice touch, that, recently-added titles looking original, or were they original? -- to help us get used to the somewhat primitive technical basis of the film. Whatever, the sound track then started up, and I don't say the music because there was quite a loud buzz and other problems, which took some getting used to: The music lacked body, became rough when loud, there was a surprising amount of noise from the stage (remember there's a lot of movable sets in the first scene) and from time to time, muttering from somewhere, as though an unrelated conversation had somehow gotten in.

But even though the buzz was usually louder than the music, I did get used to it, and hardly heard it except when I checked to see if it was still there, because it was absolutely steady, and so I could tune it out after a while. I'm going on about this at such length, because I don't want anyone to go to see it all keyed up by my and Natalia's enthusiasm and be shatterred by the shortcomings of the recording -- you do get past this, if you have any ability to concentrate in a relaxed way, you can hear through the noise and distractions, not least because the rewards you get when you do so are considerable.

And in Act II, it mostly cleared up, except for some roughness in loud passages; good-enough sound, with body, so you could hear the music, right through Act III until Don Quixote is caged, when the buzz came back.

The Prologue being pretty dim, those of us who have seen the recent revival a few times found that we were helped a lot by that -- we had a sense for the action at each moment of the music, which turned out to be less different than I had believed from hearing about some recent editing. But what was different already in the first several minutes was, to no one's surprise, Balanchine's performance as Don Quixote. All the recent Dons I've seen are faithful to the text seen here, and they all infuse it with some persuasive characterization, different in each case; it's Balanchine's movingly effective moment-to-moment modulation of his movement that puts the Don's action on a different plane. The others have tended to be more even and steady; they show us the story, the internal and external parts built into the choreography, but Balanchine "speaks" the part so you feel the character.

For example, when the Don is on one knee at the front, suited up in armor, facing his neighbor Sancho Panza, who has some business, as though he'd forgotten what he's supposed to do next, Balanchine reaches up and toward him, beseeching him, three times in several seconds, but not the same way; each time, the gesture is more urgently imploring, the fingers of the hands more animated, and then Sancho touches the Don on the shoulder with his own sword, initiating his knighthood.

Throughout the active passages -- The Don has a lot of standing in Act II and lying down in Act III -- Balanchine is inhabiting his part, enlivening it, without making it busy. (For those who know the clips from his 1954 Drosselmeyer, I was more reminded of his actions on the clock at midnight than when administering first-aid to the toy nutcracker.) He is shown in "closeup", as Farrell said, although I would use the word "partial" because it's rarely just his face we see, but his upper body, and I felt this was effective, because we see enough of the scene to know he's not moving about much, and not dancing, and so we know we're not missing that.

In no time at all -- this production moves right along, with tempos possibly a bit faster than the revival in many places -- we arrive at Marcela's solo. The scene has lightened, and we can see well here. (Much of the film looks a lot like the two pages of somewhat gloomy photos I remember (maybe incorrectly) from Reynolds's Repertory in Review, including one of the animated giant knight.) Natalia caught this well -- what a phenomenon Farrell was! (And is. I mean the woman we are fortunate to have still among us, coaching, presenting, speaking.) But keeping still in the role, everything clear, even those fleeting, split-second pauses that mark off phrases. Abandon, yes, careless, no. Taking risks, yes, upstaging her dance, not that I could see. True, always true. No hint that she could falsify ever. What a vision! And so, as she finally disappears upstage, she casts a glance back at Balanchine/Quixote, and he has arranged it so we are with him, transfixed and longing.

But here there was something frustrating -- those "closeups" Farrell had spoken of: In her dancing, the camera cut to a closer point of view so we could tell there was still dancing to see, because we could see her limbs out to her elbows and knees or so, and they were certainly moving, we just couldn't see how, and so we were less affected than if the longer shot had been maintained, and I felt that when this happened (about a dozen times in the film), high points were somewhat blunted.

I don't know the thinking behind this -- if it "worried" Farrell, as she said, though I wouldn't say it "destroyed" the dance, it just interfered with our seeing it for a moment now and then -- could she have said no, because the film was hers? Maybe not, because she was not doing the project solely with her own resources, and many people and organizations were involved, with about twenty individuals identified in The Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage program, and they may well have been in positions to say yes. I hope some credentialed press people can dig something up for the record about this on the occasion of the New York showing.

But my memory of her great Act III solo is that it is pretty clearly shown, and one of the wonders of the age. Which age do I mean? Any age!

Yes, I strongly suspect that these soloists, the ones in the Act II Divertissements and in the Act III scene i ballet, would surpass NYCB's current soloists and principals. (I just "suspect" becasue I haven't seen much of NYCB in recent years, because the rewards aren't there. The rewards are here, in this film, dim and raucous or not.) This looked like the NYCB I began to see regularly in 1973, and to say so doesn't seem to me like cynicism, but to describe what looks pretty obvious.

It was when these Divertissements were going on that the audience in the Terrace Theatre began to applaud with the audience in the New York State Theatre back in 1965. We got an eight-page program (for a free event) which included, in addition to credits for the individuals and organizations I refered to at the end of the last paragraph, a full cast list identifying these soloists; rg has kindly posted these in another thread via scans of the original programs, no less: http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...=25356&st=0 (See Post #14.) By the way, the Terrace Theatre seats about 500, and was pretty full, though a few left along the way.

Commercial issue? PBS broadcast? A few of us lingered after the performance and talked about this. There's a problem with money. Would you have guessed it? "The unions" were mentioned, and I don't want to be misunderstood: I don't think we really left the era of sweatshops, if you count the ones under the open sky -- I'm referring to agribusiness, and Roosevelt's need to exclude it from the National Labor Relations Act to get it past the agricultural states in the old South. (I hope I've got my history essentially correct.) Organized labor has done a lot for us.* But if those with the right to ask fees set them so high nothing happens, the point of it is not clear, because they're getting nothing. On the demand side of the market, would more people buy dance videos if the average quality were higher? To be continued, I hope, because I'd really like to increase my understanding of the situation, but this is probably not the forum for it!

Natalia, if you read this this far down, do you remember anything more you'd like to share? Please do.

And anyone else who was there!

*Not to say it never did anything wrong, or never betrayed its members. (I don't want to be misunderstood.)

Edited by Jack Reed
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(from Washington, DC) bart, Balanchine said things like "Ballets are like butterflies. I say last year's butterflies don't exist." But what did he do? When we looked over the schedule for one of his company's seasons, we had to reflect that Balanchine had the best butterfly collection anyone ever saw!

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Absolutely right, Jack.

My concern is somewhat different. Balanchine was "wrong" precisely because so many people do want to see his ballets -- and the dancers he created them for and on. Your and Natalia's comments highlight just how astoinishing many of these dancers were.

For those of us without access to major dance libraries or specially-favored venues llike the Kennedy Center, the NYCB performance tradition during the Balanchine decades has virtually disappeared. How many people will be able to see this historic Don Q? Several thousand? What will happen to the video when these performances are done? And what about the rest of us?

Speaking as someone who attended the NYCB frequently from the late 50s through to the middle 80s, I simply cannot believe that the logistical and contractual problems are so great that historical records like this are doomed to this kind of very limiited, limbo-like existence.

There's a lack of interest or of will or of something among those who speak for this tradition. The reason for this is unfathomable to me.

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A wonderfully detailed review!

It's wonderful to see those names from that period of NYCB -- and to have them attached to dancing rather than just some kind of dance history.

The work of these dancers deserves honoring, preserving, AND getting out there to the public.

And, according to Jackson, it m-a-y happen!!:

There’s talk about a showing over the Public Broadcasting System and making commercial DVDs. More than the recent live staging, the movie deserves to be seen.
If it does go to PBS, we'll all have to start lobbying our local stations to include it in their schedules.
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...the video will be viewable in the video carrels after 9/20.
Bummer. HUGE bummer!

Hunh? What's the problem, nysusan? Sounds pretty cool to me! I'd be there regularly!

Meanwhile, don't overlook George Jackson's superb review on "Dance View Times":


The bummer is that the NY screening is not open to the public like the DC one. And I'm assuming that the video is not going to be available for circulation - I've never been able to access anything but the circulation collections at the Lincoln Center library. The 2-3 times I've tried to view the research collections I've been told that you had to be a student, researcher or writer. I know that they're wrong & I could have pressed the issue, but I really didn't have the time or inclination to do that in the past. Maybe I will now that they've increased their hours but make no mistake they do not make it easy for the general public to see their collections.

Also - there's no comparison between seeing a film on a big screen in a darkened theater (even a small big screen) and in seeing it on a video screen. I remain extremely disappointed that they're excluding the public from the only NY screening.


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Don't spread this all over teh Intertubes, but when I asked for press seating for the showing on 9/18 at 6pm, I was given a single seat with an admonishment to be there by 5:30-45 because after that point unclaimed reserved seats would be opened up to the general public.

So you may want to call the library or even show up (the Bruno Walter Auditorium, entrance on Amsterdam Avenue) and take your chances.

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Thanks, nysusan, I hadn't understood from carbro's comment that access was so restricted. Actually, it seems a little odd to let people see items they can withdraw anyway, or do I still misunderstand something? But maybe they make a policy of "asking questions" just to keep crazy fans like me from showing up regularly.

bart, easy does it! I want to see this available, too, but compare Jackson's remark with my last long paragraph. Also, here's the list of permission-givers as printed in the program:

This videotape of George Balanchine's Don Quixote is screened courtesy of: Suzanne Farrell, George Balanchine Trust, New York City Ballet, New York City Ballet Orchestra, Bert Stern, American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA); American Federation of Musicians, Local 802; International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local One, I.A.T.S.E.; and Schott Music International.

On further thought, maybe Jackson has heard more than I have. Hmm. At any rate, there's not much we can do but keep our eyes and ears open for further showings, right?

Oh, and pray!

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Jack Reed, I have very little to add, you expressed yourself so eloquently! :)

The depth and quality fo the 1965 cast astounds. For example, in the 5th divertissement in Act II -- the languid Harem Princess solo by Patricia McBride -- is accompanied by a pre-teen girl who stands behind the dancer, holding aloft an ostrich-feather fan, trying to keep pace with the haughty princess. The child in the film was Coleen Neary, herself a distinguished NYCB soloist of the 70s. Judith Fugate -- star of the 70s and 80s -- has a prominent part among the younger children. And on and on.

This film and this cast is the mid-20th-Century equivalent of the Imperial Ballet of the Pavlova & Nijinsky era -- a pleiad of stars appearing together on one stage. It boggles the mind.

edited on 17 September to correct first name of Ms. Neary.

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This film and this cast is the mid-20th-Century equivalent of the Imperial Ballet of the Pavlova & Nijinsky era -- a pleiad of stars appearing together on one stage. It boggles the mind.
This makes me regret especially that I responded to the identical performances of this ballet so cooly back in its first year. We knew we had a great resource in NYCB and felt we could afford, I suppose, to be picky. Who suspected at the time how just unique those glory days were, and how difficult it would be to replicate them later on? Perhaps there's a moral for us in the present: pay close attention to what you're seeing, learn to value the best of what you have, and remember that things can always get worse.
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At any rate, there's not much we can do but keep our eyes and ears open for further showings, right?

Oh, and pray!

Heck, I think this calls for a prayer chain. :) Seriously, given Farrell's association with the Kennedy Center, we can hope this will be shown there again, and on a weekend for Pete's sake. The Center never puts on seminars and conferences, do they? Hint hint, marketing people, Millennium Stage people.

Many thanks for your faithful reports, Jack.

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To reiterate the notice about this week's NEW YORKER, with the piece by Joan Acocella, "DANCE NOTES" she says in part:

"Next week's hottest dance ticket is free but get there early because there are fewer than 200 seats."

She goes on to describe (as Jack reed did) the primitive quality of the film, and then the miracle of it, and how it shows -- according to her -- that today's NYCB cannot hold a candle to what it was under Balanchine. I can't say, I wasn't there. However, I have a time machine reserved, and after I see Nijinsky, I'll be at City Center and the NYST, and let you know.

I think that access to the research library is easier than described above -- I've spent some hours there -- not enough, but that's my fault.

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Now with Jennifer Dunning's Times article of Sunday, Sept 16. we have yet another printed reference to "a public screening" of this film on Sept. 18. I feel I should say something since I posted the original info (quoting my phone call to the the NYPL) that this event was not open to the public. What can I say? There has never been a notice of it on the NYPL calendar. So I don't really know what the press's "open to the public" means in this circumstance, with a 200-seat house. If it means what it appears to mean, there should be a monstrous mob scene outside the Bruno Walter Auditorium

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Natalia wrote

It boggles the mind.

It does. It did, most evenings. And then there were the matinees!

bart wrote

We knew we had a great resource in NYCB and felt we could afford, I suppose, to be picky. Who suspected at the time how just unique those glory days were, and how difficult it would be to replicate them later on?

This reminds me of something a little OT, but one evening, operating according to my discovery that, to a considerable extent, I remembered more if I saw less, and not getting on well with the music for Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, I had finished my conversations on the Promenade of the New York State Theatre at the end of the second intermission, and, all by myself, started down the steps to the lobby on my way out, when guess who I passed walking up those steps, all by himself, to see Karin von Aroldingen's debut (in the second movement, I think)? I think I blushed.

(I did eventually see and get to know BSQ, of course, and many years later, I thought it made a conclusion to a program of SFB like the Rocky Mountains make a backdrop for Denver: Everything before it looked puny by comparison.)

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