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Suzanne Farrell

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Forgive me if I am rehashing an old topic, but I recently watched a video of Suzanne Farrell dancing Tzigane and I was absolutely amazed. Perhaps because my first teacher was so anti-Balanchine, I never sought out her performances, although I was aware of her reputation and had a vague knowledge of her background, particularly as a muse for Balanchine. A few weeks ago I read her autobiography and I was intrigued by her references to musicality and taking risks. After seeing her dance, it all clicked. She is incredible and I think I now have a new favorite ballerina.

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Welcome to BalletTalk, Strophe, and thanks for your thoughts on Farrell.

Many -- perhaps most -- ballet studios are partisan, and it's a shame that they have such power to close their students' minds. I'm glad you discovered Farrell on her terms, and perhaps through her, you'll find more revelations you'll share with us.

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I'm reviving this thread because I happened upon a particularly great interview with Farrell - the interviewer is Emily Fragos for BOMB Magazine. [sorry if this was posted somewhere previously]

Her comments strike me as wonderfuly lucid, and wise. Intellectually speaking, she certainly developed into one sharp cookie.

“I am not a programmed person,” she told me. “One thought ignites another; like mirrors, the image never stops.”
--Suzanne Farrell to Eily Fragos

http://bombsite.com/issues/85/articles/2603

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On 6/14/2013 at 10:04 PM, pherank said:

...

Intellectually speaking, she certainly developed into one sharp cookie.

...

I'll say! She's the best advertisement for dropping out of high school I've ever heard of!

Edited by Jack Reed

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I'll say! She's the best advertisement for dropping out of high school I've ever herd of!

Apparently nowadays we can drop out of high school and join the CIA/NSA. But, that's another story...

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Apparently nowadays we can drop out of high school and join the CIA/NSA. But, that's another story...

A story I'm not up on. But when I think of Farrell's, a pretty remarkable one, one that makes you glad you're around, I think that her long association with George Balanchine may have been something like a long tutorial in place of schooling that too often dulls rather than puts people in possession of their powers. (Some of his other dancers have said that he didn't just teach them how to dance, but how to live.) I believe Balanchine also did not have a lot of formal schooling, not a long career in it anyway, but he was, like Farrell, very quick of mind, and rarely at a loss, and learned from experience. That's not to take anything away from Farrell; it's to her credit that she was able to absorb and benefit from what her "soul mate," as she calls him repeatedly in her autobiography, Holding on to the Air, had to offer. And she has in herself - independently of others - that quality of non-stop ignition she refers to in that remark to Fragos you quote. (Like fireworks, she illuminates her surroundings.)

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(I sleepily clicked the wrong button here this morning. Apparently we can delete the contents of a post we have second thoughts about, but not the post itself.)

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Apparently nowadays we can drop out of high school and join the CIA/NSA. But, that's another story...

A story I'm not up on.

> My reference to the Eward Snowden "affair" currently in the news. Now back to Farrell: I think you've probably described her situation quite well, and I realize that gives a double meaning to Balanchine's remark, "Suzanne didn't resist." Farrell absorbed a great deal, seemingly.

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High school isn't particularly relevant where it's not demanded as a credential for the next step or where the person is accomplished enough that the credential requirements are waived or not even considered.

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Farrell is interviewed by Alastair Macaulay in the NYT.

Quote

I returned to Washington to meet Ms. Farrell three days after the final performance. Some of what she said (“Balanchine is my life — my destiny”) might look high-flown on the page, but was spoken simply, almost with resignation. She referred to her mentor as “Balanchine,” “Mr. Balanchine” and sometimes “Mr. B.”

 

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Everytime I saw Farrell dance she seemed true to the choreography and yet,  simultaneously, as if she was making it up as she went along--a subject that comes up in the interview, though not in those words of course:

"As a dancer, you made each performance a singular event. Can this be passed on?

Some people go out there with an opinion, and they dance an opinion. But the music’s never quite the same from one performance to the next; you can’t plan that in advance. You must dance the choreography, but you should recognize the different ways it can go. You can’t rehearse a performance. What I rehearsed were options. There are so many ways a performance can go: your partner that night, the music, your security on point. Dancing on point! On that tiny part of your foot! It’s a precipice!"

I loved the whole interview. I was also struck by what Macaulay says regarding her work with dancers:

"She released in them all a freedom of spirit, a wealth of musical nuance and a range of physical inflection that kept her enterprise on the top level of achievement amid the world’s Balanchine diaspora. Familiar ballets looked new; rare ballets were reborn; corps dancers made breakthroughs."

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47 minutes ago, Drew said:

Everytime I saw Farrell dance she seemed true to the choreography and yet,  simultaneously, as if she was making it up as she went along--a subject that comes up in the interview, though not in those words of course:

"As a dancer, you made each performance a singular event. Can this be passed on?

Some people go out there with an opinion, and they dance an opinion. But the music’s never quite the same from one performance to the next; you can’t plan that in advance. You must dance the choreography, but you should recognize the different ways it can go. You can’t rehearse a performance. What I rehearsed were options. There are so many ways a performance can go: your partner that night, the music, your security on point. Dancing on point! On that tiny part of your foot! It’s a precipice!"

I loved the whole interview. I was also struck by what Macaulay says regarding her work with dancers:

"She released in them all a freedom of spirit, a wealth of musical nuance and a range of physical inflection that kept her enterprise on the top level of achievement amid the world’s Balanchine diaspora. Familiar ballets looked new; rare ballets were reborn; corps dancers made breakthroughs."

I still would love to see her be invited to coach at NYCB. 

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She said something similar to Ballet Review many years ago. As I recall it --  “A performance is an enactment that is done in accordance with the music on a given night.”  That certainly seems to have been true for her. Zippora Karz remarked that it didn’t always work – Farrell would fall off that precipice from time to time. It never worried her – she would come back and take the risk again and it would pay off.

 

It does seem like one of those don’t-try-this-at-home things – it wouldn’t work for everyone and Balanchine did not permit every dancer the liberties he allowed Farrell. But it’s an observation that any dancer would find of enormous value, I think.

(The critical response to Farrell's company was interesting.  Now that it's kaput, she's receiving the best reviews since the company's inception.)

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15 hours ago, dirac said:

(The critical response to Farrell's company was interesting.  Now that it's kaput, she's receiving the best reviews since the company's inception.)

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got til it's gone . . .

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On 12/20/2017 at 5:36 PM, dirac said:

 

(The critical response to Farrell's company was interesting.  Now that it's kaput, she's receiving the best reviews since the company's inception.)

Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that negative reviews mostly had to do with the caliber of dancers she was working with and the uneven quality of the company, because it was a pick up group.  I believe her coaching, and what she got out any dancers has been highly praised consistently.

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My own recollection is that not all the faults of the troupe were laid at the feet of the dancers and the challenges Farrell faced in leading a pickup group.  

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14 hours ago, vipa said:

Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that negative reviews mostly had to do with the caliber of dancers she was working with and the uneven quality of the company, because it was a pick up group.  I believe her coaching, and what she got out any dancers has been highly praised consistently.

I think you're right, vipa.  For instance, Robert Greskovic spoke this theme at the end, in his review, "Suzanne Farrell's Curtain Call," in the December 11th Wall Street Journal, for example:

Quote

During the run—again with “Serenade” the sterling exception—her dancers showed, for the most part, good schooling but lacked the projection and individuality that lifts a staging from a choreographic display to a dancer showcase. In discovering Ms. Farrell, Balanchine found a way for her to make a historic career for herself. Ms. Farrell has demonstrated a way with training but not a knack for discovering towering talent.

Exceptional dancers know they can command exceptional salaries, although some worked for Balanchine for less than they could get - did get - elsewhere, and this is another limiting factor, as money often is. 

But Farrell has resourcefully "picked up" dancers she had worked with before, often filling the ranks from her classes at FSU in Talahassee, as well as putting such satisfying dancers as Natalia Magnicaballi, a member of  Ballet Arizona, and Heather Ogden, of the National Ballet of Canada, to mention two on view in these last performances, in the more prominent roles.  (Ogden, and Violeta Angelova, both of whom I was very glad to see dancing with TSFB again, have not always appeared in Farrell's recent seasons, though.)

Edited by Jack Reed

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Magnacaballi is under contract to Ballet Arizona and had to get permission to perform with Suzanne Farrell Ballet.  There were times when there was a schedule clash.  I don't know what  the NBoC contract is like, but it's pretty standard to require sign-off by the contracted company for guest appearances, at least during the contract period, with caveats for tours outside the standard contract period.  

Ogden had her second child in 2016 and performed for the first time five months later.  This article says she danced into her second trimester, but that would have meant nearly a year off:

https://www.todaysparent.com/family/family-life/heather-ogden-i-wont-say-it-was-easy-but-i-had-a-goal-and-i-was-driven/

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More interesting background, Helene, thank you, and it may help to explain how TSFB's last show - I'm not saying Farrell's last show - happened in December instead of October or November - it's a matter of when enough resources can be patched together for the show to go on.  (Likewise, I gather that the Kennedy Center Opera House orchestra plays for TSFB during hiatus in the opera season.)

I don't say "Farrell's last show" because of a hunch that she would rather do more, not less, and because of a couple of other things:  On a panel after TSFB's open class - open to the public to view, free of charge - at Purchase College (in Purchase, New York) on December 2nd, she remarked to us that "I've retired three times and I'm looking forward to the fourth."  So, she's "come back" three times already.

And in an interview with Marina Harss in Dance Magazine early this month, she remarked

Quote

"If I had my choice I would go on forever" ...

[and]

"I believe that ballet and Mr. B are my destiny," she says with quiet intensity over the phone, "and we'll go on somehow."

 

Edited by Jack Reed

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On 12/20/2017 at 4:36 PM, dirac said:

...

(The critical response to Farrell's company was interesting.  Now that it's kaput, she's receiving the best reviews since the company's inception.)

While there's truth in the idea that you sometimes don't value something as much when you have it as when you know you've lost it, their last five performances - thinking mainly of Gounod Symphony and especially of Serenade - and including the Purchase show on December 2nd - were some of their best, IMO.  Nor just my opinion - some of my considerable betters went farther, for example, George Jackson in Danceviewtimes for December 8th:

Quote

Last night, December 8, the company danced the greatest "Serenade" of the countless ones I've seen. It had utterly remarkable accelerations with the fastest allegros plus the richest retards. These things were independent of any particular dancers, and yet all were part of it. The phrasing changed my idea of "romantic" and "classical" in ballet. This was a new beast!

Trying to write about it after seeing the Purchase performance, I was pretty lost for words - a "universe," compared to a mere "world", like Gounod - but I agree with Jackson about the scale of the experience.

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22 minutes ago, Jack Reed said:

While there's truth in the idea that you sometimes don't value something as much when you have it as when you know you've lost it, their last five performances - thinking mainly of Gounod Symphony and especially of Serenade - and including the Purchase show on December 2nd - were some of their best, IMO.  Nor just my opinion - some of my considerable betters went farther, for example, George Jackson in Danceviewtimes for December 8th:

Trying to write about it after seeing the Purchase performance, I was pretty lost for words - a "universe," compared to a mere "world", like Gounod - but I agree with Jackson about the scale of the experience.

I recall that Gounod Symphony was a part of a "lost works" initiative (Balanchine Preservation Initiative), but what is the status of that initiative now? And is there some kind of schedule for presentation of restored works?

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The short answer, to all questions like that about continuing and future projects and "initiatives" of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, is, it's over.   As dirac says, "kaput".   No performance or presentation schedule, nothing.  I believe the name, "Suzanne Farrell Ballet," may be the Kennedy Center's "brand" to use or not as it wishes, but in the meantime, as far as I know, her only continuing work at the K. C. is her teaching. 

For example, her annual summer intensive,  "Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell," was announced for July 23-Auguast 11, 2018, in handbills in the programs at the K.C.  Audition applications are due today, December 24, by the way; according to the handbill, information is available and applications may be submitted at education.kennedy-center.org/education/farrell or by calling (202) 416-8851.  (Curious where the auditions will be held?  I was.  Here's the list:  New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Nashville, Santa Fe, and Houston.)

More than the encouraging signs I've mentioned, I'm sure there is interest and activity directed toward enabling Farrell's work, but nothing specific has emerged in public.        

Edited by Jack Reed

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Still thinking about the question of what's next for Farrell, I remember that a friend and fellow follower of TSFB over the years pointed out lately that when one thing is finished, it frees you up to work on the next thing.  

Maybe my friend has stumbled on some of the meaning behind Farrell's remark about how, having retired three times, she's looking forward to the fourth one.

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I'm sure she'll continue teaching and coaching, and perhaps one positive out of the crisis at NYCB will be, as others have said, that at some point Farrell will be invited to coach and/or stage there (and she will be willing to accept the invitation, which I gather she wasn't previously).

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Hey there folks-

As NYCB has been adding ballets to their YouTube page every week, I've gone back and visited my "Ballet Bucketlist." One of the items on there is the Elusive Muse documentary about Suzanne Farrell. Does anyone know where this can be seen online?

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