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Suzanne Farrell's "Staging in Process", 11 September 2016, Skirball Center, NYU

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We got a program in four parts:  First, a spoken introduction by Jennifer Homans, actually read from the stage; then a rehearsal sequence, with Farrell sometimes speaking to her dancers and sometimes to us; then an interview/discussion with her and Homans, with Homans taking a minor role; and then finally the uninterrupted performance of the second movement, the Allegretto, of Gounod Symphony.  


About 90 minutes all together; no intermission.  And the Skirball Center proved to be a good small venue for dancing, about twice the number of seats as the Joyce Theatre, where Farrell’s dancers appeared on their only previous visit to New York, the rows in Skirball needing only a little steeper rake, like most of the new theaters I’ve been in, for better sight lines.  And the stage was well lit during the performing (if not during the speaking).  


The dancing was beautiful - Natalia Magnicaballi was magnificent, even compared to the different Magnicaballis she was in the two different Terpsichores with BA she showed us  in Phoenix, in May.    Immersed as always in the moment, in her music, and somehow seeming a little more mature, compared to the youthfully exuberant flavoring of her second Terpsichore.  (She also had lightened her normally-black hair with a touch of gray or silver.)  She and Michael Cook, especially, and the eight girls, too.


And Farrell was on a roll.  Our faithfully prodigious dirac has linked to Wendy Perron’s short notice of the event at Dance Magazine on line; I was glad to see Perron’s compilation of Farrell’s “bon mots”.   Although I heard some of them differently, Perron caught more of Farrell’s short dissertation on time than I did.   Here is my catch (pity there was no live stream, though there were two or three video cameras in the theater, so it was recorded if not broadcast):



Introduction by Homans


Gounod was made at a time of crisis and productivity for Balanchine.  (He was preoccupied with LeClerq’s illness.)  Ballets poured out of him.  There were long lapses in performance of this one.  Tape [film?] and notes from POB 1959 [?].


Revivals are very personal - it’s necessary to re-enchant the steps.  1985 different from 1990 different from today.



Rehearsal remarks by Farrell, interspersed with the dancing


Why Gounod?  As Balanchine would say, Why not?  Do you ask a rose to explain itself?  You just enjoy its beauty and its fragrance.


There was pleasure in pretending I was in the ballet.  It has a new presence.


A different pas de deux - eight women come in.  There are patterns we have not seen anywhere else.


We [she, Kristen Gallagher, TSFB’s ballet mistress, Natalia Magnicballi and Michael Cook] came here Tuesday, the eight women came Friday, [five and two days before this Sunday event] so we’re vulnerable, which is a wonderful quality.


This [gesturing] is Kristen Gallagher.  We think alike.


[pointing]  I’ve never seen that step. 


What Farrell was talking about and pointing to began as as familiar an arabesque as you could imagine, with Magnicaballi, supported by Cook, facing audience left, across the stage; but no sooner than she made the pose appear - big and clear - than she folded it, bending her working leg to put her foot behind her, bending the corresponding arm to put her hand before her, and turning her head to look back, facing audience right, all in one move.  (They immediately did this twice more, in the music here.)




Stay alive when you’re not moving.  [Addressed to the corps of eight, on stage now, three minutes into this little five-minute movement, for the fugue which concludes it.]



Discussion talk w/ Homans


There’s not a story but not not a story; not smiling, but pleasant.  You can have a different story every night, the world of Diamonds, the world of Gounod.


I would be remiss as a teacher if I didn’t give them everything. 


I used to have a dream where my music is coming up but I can’t find the stage.  I open the door and there’s a blank wall.


As long as it lasts that it’s good, that’s forever.


We want you to come into our world, not we come down into yours.  As an audience you have to participate.


You can’t be a performer and a spectator at the same time.  When I staged Agon there was an extra girl in the ballet.  I wasn’t there any more.


[She was working with Balanchine and had a problem with something at first, but he only reassured her, and they worked on.  Later he brought it up.]  What was that step you wanted me to change for you?  And I couldn’t remember.


Remarks about Time; here’s Wendy Perron’s take: We can never harness time. We have to live in the music we have.  Then, I heard, You make your tempo become your pulse.  Perron again:  Moving very fast and very slow opened up a wide range of music.


I couldn’t change the palette at SAB; now I can.  [commenting further on the 1991 SAB revival]  We’re not in a garden.  The dancers are the garden.


Not just a pas de deux [four parts, with two variations]; it’s a symphony.


We’re not doing the Minuet.  Originally for six couples.  [Here, Farrell was not so clear, though she mentioned that minuets can get long, and they typically repeat; this one is no exception.]


“Memory” is past; “memorable” is forever.


Some of these ideas were familiar, but I was struck by how fresh, effective language for them had come to Farrell this time - she herself exemplifies her own “in the moment” philosophy.



Performance of the second movement, Allegretto (without comments or interruptions)


Farrell said, “There’s not a story but not not a story,” and her idea about a drama without a story (and Balanchine’s idea too, I’m sure) came to me at the transition from the first part of this movement to the second part - the first music consists of a  lovely tune, its flowing line playing off against hopping, staccato notes for a moment, and so on, but then, after a minute or so, becoming softer and fragmentary, it less satisfies us with something like the beauty we’ve been experiencing and instead tells us to anticipate something.  


The two dancers, still dancing together, also have some sequences at this point which don’t “read” so clearly, and we are intrigued, rather than satisfied as we were.   What’s going on?   Gounod and Balanchine have drawn us in, and now as Gounod gives us his second tune, all luminous and flowing line this time, we watch Magnicaballi unfurl a beautiful sequence, solo now, crossing the stage away from her partner, who, waiting where he was, watches her, as she turns back toward him and returns to him.


(There’s no “story” at all here, as Farrell said, but to me there’s some little drama in the way Gounod and Balanchine collaborate in setting us up and then fulfilling our expectations - Balanchine maybe more surprisingly than Gounod.  Whether this really qualifies as even a small part of the sort of thing Farrell had in mind, I don’t really know; but music for me is often more or less dramatic, without a story you can put into words so much as can be put into sounds.)


So.  Some pas de deux!  Entree, two variations, and coda?  As Farrell said, Not just a pas deux.  Not at all!  Every one of those are different, of course, different worlds, but we’re in a totally different kind of world here, a symphonic movement which Balanchine heard as a possibility for “steps for two.”  


(And then, maybe three minutes into this little five-minute movement, the corps of eight enters - as the principals exit - for the fugue.   Finally, everybody is onstage at the conclusion.) 


[This topic first appeared elsewhere, where three replies also were posted.  The first one of these appears here




and a later version of this long post appears there too, just above it.]

Edited by Jack Reed
To separate the two tangled threads
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You can glimpse some of what I try to describe above in the rehearsal clip posted on the Kennedy Center web site for World Ballet Day (with different principals from Magnicaballi and Cook):




What we see here begins at the beginning music, but the video skips forward right away (at 00:22) over nearly a minute to near the end of the first minute and a half or so, where Gounod and Balanchine are signaling us to anticipate, on into Gounod's presentation of his second, flowing melody (beginning at 00:47) and the ballerina's little solo and return to her partner.  The two dance together as the tune repeats (at 01:17). The corps enters for the fugue (01:48), and then we see the principals come back downstage (at 2:40) and dance until Farrell stops them (at 03:26) for detailed commentary.  


They go back a bit and start again (at 07:04) in that musical repeat; by 09:08, the corps have exited, and with a traveling lift (starting at 09:15) the principal couple exit the center upstage audience right to bring the movement to a quiet close.  


Then, beginning at 09:22 or so, Farrell adjusts the nuances of that lift sequence, so it can have "mystery."  Here again, with Farrell as our guide, we encounter meaning and drama in the world of this little ballet.   

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Platinum Circle

Senior Member

1,726 posts

Posted October 9 · Report post

Great write-up, Jack. You are a champion. Now who is the danseur in the Gounod video? I like him, and his partner too: a lovely team.



Jack Reed

Platinum Circle

Senior Member

1,692 posts

Posted October 10 (edited) · Report post

"Tommy," as Farrell calls him at one point, is Thomas Garrett, new to the ensemble last Fall, from the Jacksonville and Richmond companies and, over the summers, with Jessica Lang Dance in New York;  she is Allynne Noelle, also new last Fall, originating in southern California and dancing professionally in half a dozen companies in California, including SFB, but also with MCB.  (I'm cribbing from the program from last Fall.)  I share your liking for them, as do many of the troupe's fans I know.


Edited October 12 by Jack Reed



Edited by Jack Reed
Takiing some posts from another thread about the TSFB Millennium Stage Preview video material and and copying them into this separate thread about the Skirball Center event, almost a month earlier.
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