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Minneapolis Performances and Interview

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To those of you who may be attending the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's March 12 performance at the Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis:

I received an e-mail from Northrop stating that there will be a pre-performance interview with Suzanne Farrell on March 11 @ 4:00PM. The interview will take place at Rapson Auditorium (located across the street from Northrop.)

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(from St. Paul, Minnesota) Thanks to miliosr, I caught an earlier flight and attended the interview. I hugely enjoyed it! Even more than at the recent reception in Washington I mentioned on that thread, Farrell seems on a roll. Certainly at greater length, but an onrushing cascade of apt and wonderful figures of speech. She talked well over an hour, fed questions by two people and then from the audience, but sometimes just taking off as inspiration struck. After an hour, my note-taking really started to flag, but I will try to post what I got soon (the present hour is late).

Meanwhile, any other BTers there (miliosr?), go for it! As everybody on the program was amplified, with wireless mics, I hope they -- or at least, she -- was recorded as well, and maybe transcripts or a webcast will be available. That's what universities are supposed to do, and if U. MN missed this one, it'd be a crying shame.

I also picked up a copy of the program book for the performances to come tomorrow and Saturday, and that was a much less happy matter, I thought, constantly directing people's attention away from the core of the matter, as I consider it, the relation of music and dance. For instance, the viewer of the Divertimento No. 15 excerpts -- "Theme and Variations" and "Andante", what Farrell (aptly) calls "the heart of the matter" -- is asked to think how it must be to perform in a tutu weighed down with a wire ring in the perimeter to stiffen it! Who can do that? Why should anyone attempt it? Of course, I'd ask the viewer just to watch and to listen while watching and see how and to what extent and in what way, if at all, the visible movement corresponds to the audible "action", the music.

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(from St. Paul, Minnesota) from the 11th March 2011 interview with Suzanne Farrell, Ben Johnson, and Kim Motes in Rapson Auditorium at the University of Minnesota East Bank Campus in Minneapolis:

BJ: Suzanne Farrell performed in Northrop Auditorium with New York City Ballet in the 1970s; yesterday, she conducted a master class.

SF: [introducing Serenade clip] Serenade is timeless and beautiful, the first ballet I was thrown into, when someone was injured. Thinking about the ballet, I still feel the frightened 16 year old. There's reference to [Psyche and Eros by] Antonio Canova, and references to all art forms.

[the clip then showed the "Dark Angel" sequence, with Natalia Magnicaballi "directing" Runqiao Du to where Bonnie Pickard was lying, up through the part where corps girls have run past him and he and the remaining women have joined hands and then spun apart]

SF: This is the "Elegy" movement... Absence of story doesn't mean absence of drama. There's lots of drama in the world of Serenade. The same step in another ballet is different because it's in a different world... Beethoven is very full and doesn't need choreography. Balanchine wanted people to know about Stravinsky, so he choreographed to Stravinsky.

Stravinsky's music splits the atoms of time. Balanchine's choreography explains the music. You move entirely differently to Tchaikovsky.

Q: How different? SF: In the State Theatre, the stage was twice as big as in the City Center -- we had to cover more space with the same number of steps. Mr. B. taught us differently [for that].

Everything we do fights gravity -- everything we do changes the molecular structure of the atmosphere. [Farrell repeated this.]

I don't know what he saw in me. I heard the music and wanted to dance to it; I didn't want to be a ballerina. It's a different attitude... Choreography is not boring. Try a little of this, try a little of that, slowly it came together... You're not bound by what has to be.

BJ: Balanchine was an innovator.

SF: I believe in destiny. I hoped my orbit would intersect with his. There was no guarantee they would.

Ballet was his visa out of Russia. He had to continue making ballet. It was not easy. Ballet is young in America. He began at the beginning.

Class was the experiment. "The act of trying is already success," he said. That we could move very slowly and very quickly allows you to use a wider range of music. The audience gets more. It's entertainment, education, you participate, bring something. [Here I recalled Balanchine's famous -- or notorious, to some -- reluctance to interpret his ballets. I think he has asked, "What did you see?", in response to a question about what something in a ballet meant.]


Every dancer is the beneficiary of every dancer before them. We show people human potential, what people can be. He was so human and cared so much about people. He changed the way people dance to reduce injury, co-invented [with Ron Bates, his lighting and technical director, I believe] a basket-weave [stage] floor, which athletes use, which I tried out to see how springy it was, to reduce injury.


Before I had a company I was teaching people ballets, it's like a live video game. I used to manipulate beans and pills on my kitchen table to prepare for placing dancers in the studio... Running from one formation to another, it can't be chaos, some one leads, like a flock of birds; later the leader is in back and another leads.

Our language is our dance movement. I tell my dancers to speak. You can love someone and they'll never know it if you don't tell them.

How you move is as unique as your thumbprint. Young dancers want to hide behind technique.

I take my students to the National Gallery and point out texture and have my students dance in texture. I'm shy and don't like people to visit my class because I look crazy sometimes because I'll do anything to get them to do something.

Ten years is young for a ballet company... We will do two movements of Divertimento No. 15, the heart of the thing... The hardest thing in ballet is to name the ballet. Most of Clarinade is lost but I had to choreograph some.


[balanchine] would say, I don't have an idea, let's go for coffee. He was very honest.

Q: Talk about standing on stage and touching the stars with your eyes. SF: How wonderful it is! I can do this all my life! An advantage to moving quickly and learning quickly is you do a lot before you use up your instrument.

Q: Bejart. SF: I had to go somewhere. I live in the now, I had to dance... I practiced in Europe what I had learned which wasn't used [there]. I didn't know whether I would come back... Balanchine said, if he had made Nijinsky, Clown of God, he would have made Nijinsky a woman.

My off-balance way of dancing is unique to the ballets he made on me. Also, dancing on a diagonal which is longer than [the side of] a square. Off-balance shouldn't look out of control.

I can't do anything well anymore -- I see in the mirror -- but I feel so alive, it's visceral. I stopped because of hip trouble. My dad had hip trouble, but never danced. I had surgery, got back, left on my own terms. I had to learn to walk, to dance all over. Every day I got another millimeter. I last performed, in part of Liebeslieder and Vienna Waltzes, in 1989.

I never was a posey kind of dancer. Balanchine defined dance as flow in time and space...

It's a catchy line, my book title. ["Holding on to the Air"] You must have mystery in a performance.

Advice for a young dancer? It's a great life! It's a great life! We're very serious about arts education, you need to give them the best... Don't paint yourself into a corner.

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Beethoven is very full and doesn't need choreography.

That is brilliant, and is somehow as if finishing up what Balanchine just happened to leave unsaid.

Stravinsky's music splits the atoms of time. Balanchine's choreography explains the music. You move entirely differently to Tchaikovsky.

These are all very good too, except that I don't think 'explains' is quite enough for Stravinsky's music, it may 'explain it more', but while we are grateful for the 'explanation', it could in some cases be that that music explains the choreography, in those pieces that were written to be danced. But the 'entirely different movement' to Tchaikovsky is something we can sense, but it is even better when it's made sxplicit like this. I like this a lot too: "How you move is as unique as your thumbprint. Young dancers want to hide behind technique."

Thanks for posting this, Jack!

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Thanks for the excerpts, Jack. I love the ones below.

I take my students to the National Gallery and point out texture and have my students dance in texture.

Now wouldn't that be a marvelous tour to tag along on. Note to the National Gallery: I'd buy the audio download.

I'm shy and don't like people to visit my class because I look crazy sometimes because I'll do anything to get them to do something.

This makes me laugh. Crazy like a fox . . . crazy like a Balanchine muse!

I can't do anything well anymore -- I see in the mirror -- but I feel so alive, it's visceral.

"but I feel so alive, it's visceral" watching her own company -- that's just wonderful, and so well deserved.

He was so human and cared so much about people. He changed the way people dance to reduce injury, co-invented [with Ron Bates, his lighting and technical director, I believe] a basket-weave [stage] floor, which athletes use, which I tried out to see how springy it was, to reduce injury.

As much as his dancers usually loved him, we don't often hear that he was a caring man. And how much is known about that floor and his role in its invention?

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(from St. Paul, Minnesota) Well, kfw, just to answer that last one, I recall -- an unreliable resource, my memory, but still -- a picture of Balanchine and Bates and some boards and a saw and some tools on a kitchen table. (No, no sign of Farrell!) The Taper biography, maybe?

Anyway, in the meantime I have gathered that we can hope for an edited version of Farrell's remarks -- of which I've only been able to give a sampler -- will be posted on one of the University of Minnesota web sites. No hint, though, as to the medium -- video, audio only, text -- but more than I've been able to present. Now that will be something!

As for tonight's performance in the Northrop Auditorium in Minnneapolis, it was an occasion to reflect on the highs and lows of enjoyment of ballet. Watching and, even more so, performing. The "Theme and Variations" and "Andante" movements of Divertimento no. 15 went quite well, with Natalia Magnicaballi and Violeta Angelova especially fine in the fourth and sixth variations, respectively. They got the best applause, by the way, although each variation was applauded.

After an intermission, the "Contrapuntal Blues" section from Clarinade went well enough, with Elisabeth Holowchuk and Ted Seymour, having, however, the disadvantage in my experience, of coming after the first cast I think Farrell had for this, at the Kennedy Center, namely the one including Erin Mahoney-Du, now retired, who danced with such energy and abandon among other qualities harder to describe, that when someone who knew I had seen Farrell dance for Balanchine asked me then whether I had ever seen her dance that, I found myself saying, "Not until now!"

After a pause, Bejart's Romeo and Juliet love scene, led by Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov, and really very fine, on a level with some of the later parts of the Divertimento excerpts we had seen, but of course longer. The audience really warmed to this, with some yells and whistles and people standing during the applause afterward.

After intermission, Agon; early on, with everybody onstage, I think, Mladenov lowered his normally outstretched arm to his hip, and a moment later found a way to leave the stage inconspicuously. He did not return, and Michael Cook, already in the cast, partnered Magnicaballi in the pas de deux pretty ably if not quite at the level of control she and Mladenov had shown when they danced it in Washington. Mladenov's absence also meant that in the last section, one of the four trios, the one to our left of center downstage, became a pair of women, who partnered each other; and generally the ensemble concealed the absence of the one dancer.

After the final applause died down but before we turned to leave, Cook received credit over the public address system, with reference to Mladenov's injury. Of course we wish him a speedy recovery.

I never sat in Northrop Auditorium before, and I think that the main floor is so flat -- in the fourteenth row I was partially blocked -- that the front rows of the balcony are preferable, even though the balcony front is about twenty rows from the stage, if you can get them. I gathered at intermission that the smaller Schubert Theatre was unavailable because it is being moved! But it may have only 600 seats, while Northrop has 4800! On the main floor, there were few seats occupied more than half-way back, which seems to me little reflection on the drawing power of this company.

Edited by Jack Reed
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(from St. Paul, Minnesota) Someone said to me just after the Washington run that it's something of a letdown when it's over, but I finally found another advantage in my own slowness: At that time, I still felt the impact of the Agon performance I'd just seen, and a bit of the Donizetti music was running through my head as well! I wasn't down off that program yet.

But now the "Balanchine Couple" program, billed as a "family matinee", is over, and maybe I'm just not so high on that one. The Agon pas de deux (only the pas de deux, see) with Magnicaballi and Cook was very fine, stronger than last night, and one of the high points; the program began, as it usually does, I think, with their Apollo pas de deux, which was particularly beautiful, and beautifully lit, which helped. Both the Sonnambula (Kendra Mitchell and Ian Grosh) and the Unanswered Question pas made some of their their points, the latter less clearly, I think, owing to the difficulty of lighting it adequately all the way through. Holowchuk was the girl aloft, and Andrew Shore Kaminski's sharp, stretched shapes strengthened the eery tension.

More, but different, eeriness after intermission as Sara Ivan and Ted Seymour brought us the pas de deux from La Valse, watched later on by the eyes of that face (uncredited) in the background. Both made familiarly expressive and fantastically surreal gesture and movement, seemingly drawn from the music, flow into each other.

Holowchuk and Kaminski performed the "Pas de deux Mauresque" from Balanchine's Don Quixote; it's something of a favorite of mine, but I thought its effectiveness came and went this time. I thought the somewhat dusky lighting didn't help any, but at least that was constant. The quietly startling way he leads her out was one of the more effective moments, as usual.

The Chaconne pas de deux is, of course, on another, exalted plane, altogether, with its dancers avoiding even seeing each other, according to the Orpheus myth. Kendra Mitchell and Ian Grosh made the final diagonal exit sequence especially striking in an understated, calmly Elysian way.

Some overstatement is the right approach to the Stars and Stripes pas de deux, and it got some. Its satire read as gentle and affectionate this time, and this time the shoulder tap and "stolen kiss" bits in the exit sequence again failed to appear, like other details in other staging of other Balanchine ballets. Maybe this is now gone, or maybe it wasn't original. But Violeta Angelova and Michael Cook brought some of the right crisp snap to it.

Momchil Mladenov's absence, owing to injury, according to an announcement, made for some shuffling of casts, with Cook taking over his roles in the Agon and Stars and Stripes pas de deux, and Magnicaballi replacing originally-cast Kenna Draxton in the Agon one.

Following the performance, by announcement, Angelova, Holowchuk, and Kaminski, in costume, met some of the audience in the foyer for autographs and posing for pictures with them.

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I didn't, and she did. Mostly the same text, from a notebook; FWIW, her delivery seemed a little prim this time, or maybe that was just because of contrast with her freedom in the interview. Some lines were meant to get some laughs, and they did.

The interview, BTW, is so far listed on this page:


but the link is not live; clicking on it won't take you to a video of it. (Not yet, I assume.)

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