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Tzigane/Suzanne Farrell

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I was just watching an old homemade video. It's really a potpourri of ballets I used to love, (and was able to get my hands on, to tape in the early days of VCRs). It's horrible quality, but still a treasure.

I watched Natalia Makarova and Fernado Bujones in 'Don Quiote Pas de Deux'. She was still as perfect as ever. Time had not diminished the power and perfection of one of the greatest ballerinas of all time.

Next was Balanchine's 'Tzigane'. At first it was hard to watch Suzanne Farrell (right after the classically perfect Makarova). Then I found myself getting drawn back into her charisma. I was fortunate to see Peter Martins and Suzanne Farrell many times live, not only in 'Tzigane', but other ballets in the rep at NYCB. Their chemistry and glamour wowed audiences and we felt lucky to watch them perform. She looked like a model from the sixties and wouldn't Austin Powers have loved her. I got the sense of a dancer who was acting not with her face but with her body. He was in his glorious Apollo (looks) days. It was not Farrell's technique that I liked. It was not always perfect. Shoulders would be up and some times she would not hit the most beautiful lines, but her dance-acting was interesting.

Then I wondered how one would define the style of Balanchine's 'Tzigane'. It was ballet, but there were definitely odd positions for promenades and character steps throughout.

I think it expresses Ravel's music very well, but would one call 'Tzigane' (just) ballet?

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Yes, I can certainly agree with that! I first saw "Tzigane" live at the State Theater, and that's where my first impression of a demi-caractère work comes from. I frankly never especially cared for it, but it was of more than passing interest. Balanchine's treatment of Don Q gave me a lot to think about, in terms of the way that Farrell worked, for I never saw one performance that was exactly like another.:)

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The same would be true of Chaconne. I once saw performances by Farrell twice in a week with a performance by Ashley in the middle. This was late in Farrell's career before the hip surgery. Those two Farrell performances were completely different and the second was one that I'll always remember. Inspite of her physical problems at the time, it was almost as if she set out to prove that she could always outdo Ashley, who was the consummate technician. The richness of detail in these performances has never been equalled for me. And Farrell seemd to have more freedom to respond to the music and take chances than current ballerinas do. I've ofter wondered whether that was because, Balanchine trusted her implicitly whereas MArtins seems to want to control his dancers' performances. Be correct - no mistakes ladies.

Even now, I find it hard to watch Chaconne - no matter who dances, I see Suzanne.

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I wonder if that is because a choreographer's conception of his or her own work is automatically more plastic than that of a conservator or ballet master. There's an entire universe of effects that I'm fine on seeing in a work, especially if the work was created on the dancer currently performing. I think it's only human for a ballet master not to feel as comfortable with that latitude. Even though they have to interpret the work, it isn't "theirs".

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Originally posted by Farrell Fan

Glebb, I wonder how the Tzigane in your homemade video compares to the "official" one in The Balanchine Library series. I'm curious because Suzanne never gave the same performance twice -- in Tzigane or anything else.

That is very interesting because upon viewing my video of 'Mozartiana', a friend suggested that Suzanne Farrell was improvising. I argued that she was not (having seen her perform that role live many times). But maybe her spontaneity promoted my friends observation. :)

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Glebb, I know what you mean about spontaneity -- I've always associated it with roles made on a dancer. The two that stand out in my memory are Baryshnikov in "Push Comes to Shove" and Jamison in Ailey's "Cry." I didn't appreciate either performance completely until I saw others in the role -- even with excellent dancers, the roles suddenly became steps. I wrote something like this about Jamison once, that the role spun out of her as silk from a silkworm, or something like that. It looked as though she was making it up as she went along. Give it to somebody else, it's not their body and so the dance not only looks different, but looks less spontaneous.

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