Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Balanchine's Muse

Recommended Posts

As to her look, I would recall a "Balanchine dancer" type, moving toward the mannerist profile, long of leg, and small of head, but not there yet. Kay Mazzo became the epitome of this type. Tallchief was, in her generation, a tallish dancer, but by the sixties was sort of a compact model of where the dancers of that decade were headed.

Link to comment

Fendrock -

As said before, Farrell and Tallchief were physically very different. From what I can tell from descriptions and films, Farrell was a larger dancer, and a more plastic one than Tallchief. Both were in some senses "heroic"; they both danced big. Farrell had a more extravagant line, Tallchief was considered a virtuoso. Tallchief herself does not have the kindest things to say about her facility; she describes her feet when beginning to work with Balanchine as being "like spoons". It isn't that Farrell was the caricature of a Balanchine dancer either (she had one foot that did not point well, and she was not built to be rail-thin) but her lines and extensions were part of what dirac referred to as The Look.

I've seen clips of Tallchief in Scotch Symphony and I recall her more clearly in the Bell Telephone Hour specials (maybe doing Flower Festival with Nureyev?) She dances with authority; she's older at that point, and she dances like a Star. It's a performance of someone comfortable with performing.

There is a tape of Farrell doing a truncated version of the pas de deux from Agon with Arthur Mitchell. Her effect is the polar opposite; that of someone completely innocent of the effects she produces. Think of what Lolita would have been like if she had no clue what she did to Humbert. She had this amazing physicality, but danced like an innocent.

Link to comment

Here is a description by Anatole Chujoy from the book "Dancers and Critics." (Each critic got to pick a dancer. Wish Chujoy posted on the internet from Heaven. He begins his essay by explaining that there's a difference between a musician and someone who whistles "Yankee Doodle", and between a craftsman and an artist." He thought of Tallchief "how close she comes to the standard of the perfect artist."

Of medium height, she has nearly the ideal body for a dancer.  Her legs are long and beautifully shaped. Their wonderful contour belies their strength.  She has no protruding calf muscles which often indicate the power reservoir of the terre-a-terre dancer, yet her releves are spring-like, her beats fast and clean cut. Her feet are welldeveloped and her pointes are strong and well placed.  In the lifts en arabesque often used by George Balanchine, in which the lifted dancer describes an arc, her forward leg and foot look like a sharp, penetrating arrow.

Her aplomb is effortless and unwavering. Her hipos have a boyish shape and apparently great muscular power. Although her developpes are soft, her grande seconde is firm and geometrically perfect. ...

Tallchief's turns are very fast and precise, and in her dancing she apparently strives for precision and speed rather than for the number of turns...

So far as it is sen on the stage her elevation is moderate, her ballon good.  She does entrechat-six low off the floor, a great achievement for a woman and an excellent demonstratoin of her ability to remain in the air even at a low altitude.....

The ballerinas style of dancing can best be described as exciting. She has a way of bringing fire to every part she dances, so much so that thus far no role created by Tallchief has been completely successfully danced by any other artist.  Cold, hard, sharp, on occasion brittle, Tallchief's dancing has a technical brilliance which is rarely duplicated in full measure by any other dancer....

In his 25 year career as a choreographer, Balanchine has not found a greater executant of his ballets, a more fluent and eloquent interpreter of his choreogrpahic ideas or, stylistically, a more perfect creator of flesh-and-blood images of his artistic conceptions."

He said she wasn't a dramatic dancer, but "a classic dancer with all the technical perfection and absence of histrionics this term implies."

This is his picture of Tallchief at 25.

Amy -- I gave away my copy of "Conversation with the Muses" so I can't check, but that would have a list of her created roles. Chujoy lists Symphony in C -- he doesn't say which role -- and the Siren in Prodigal as the ones in which she made an impression.

Another Balanchine muse -- and, I think, archetype, since he once said that he wished everyone in the company moved as she did -- was Diana Adams, a dancer who's always interested me more than Tallchief (not fair; I haven't seen either of them except on bits of film).

Tallchief and Adams are from the pre-Farrell (and pre-Agon) world of Balanchine.

Who was the Diaghilev, pre-American prototype? Doubrovska? Danilova?

Link to comment

The catalog of work suggests it was Danilova; she's in almost every new work of his in the Diaghilev era. I recall reading somewhere he also had a fascination with Spessivtseva, but as far as I can see, the only role she created was in La Chatte.

Post Diaghilev, there's also the Baby Ballerinas, Toumanova in particular.

I think Adams is awfully important to the canon - she figures in the creation of a lot of the masterpieces. (original cast of Agon, Divertimento No. 15, Liebeslieder Walzer, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, both Movements for Piano and Orchestra and the role of Titania were created on her though she did not dance their premieres. . .)

To me, Marie-Jeanne was one of the underrated ones, and Allegra Kent coiuld have been even more central than she was.

Link to comment

Amy Reusch is correct. According to "Conversations with the Muses," it isn't even close. Balanchine created 31 roles for Tallchief. Farrell, with 23, is tied with Melissa Hayden -- for third place! Diana Adams is second, with 24. Apologies -- my devotion to Suzanne led me astray.

These are the numbers: Danilova 18; Geva 12; Doubrovska 10; Toumanova 9; Boris 12; Reiman 13; Marie-Jeanne 11; Moylan 7; Tallchief 31; Hayden 23; Adams 24; Kent 8; Verdy 13; McBride 21; Farrell 23; Mazzo 10; von Aroldingen 18; Ashley 4.

According to the Tracey book, these are the ballets in which Balanchine created roles for Maria Tallchief:

Danses Concertantes -- pas de trois

Le Bourgeois Gentilomme -- danse Indienne

Night Shadow -- Coquette

Raymonda -- pas classique Hongrois

Divertimento (Haieff) -- ballerina

Symphonie Concertante -- allegro maestoso; andante; presto

Symphony in C -- first movement

Orpheus -- Eurydice

Carmen: Act II Tavern Scene Ballet -- lead

Aida: Act II, Scene 2, Triumphal Ballet -- lead

Princess Aurora -- Bluebird pas de deux

Don Quixote and Swan Lake (Black Swan) Pas de Deux -- ballerina

Firebird -- firebird

Bourree Fantasque -- prelude

Prodigal Son -- siren

Jones Beach -- hot dogs

Sylvia pas de deux -- ballerina

Music and Dance -- waltz from Naila

Pas de Troix (Minkus)

Capriccio Brillant (Mendelssohn) -- ballerina

A la Francais -- winged sylph

Apollo -- Terpsichore

Swan Lake -- Swan Queen

Caracole -- one of five ballerinas

Scotch Symphony -- sylph

Harlequinade Pas de Deux -- Columbine

The Nutcracker -- Sugar Plum Fairy

Pas de Dix (Glazunov) -- ballerina

Allegro Brillante -- ballerina

Gounod Symphony -- ballerina

Panamerica -- Section VIII: Cuba

Obviously, some listings (Prodigal Son and Apollo) are for their NYCB premieres. I have no idea what's meant by "Don Quixote and Swan Lake," nor can I imagine what dancing hot dogs looked like. Does anyone remember? Anyhow, I'm sorry I never saw Tallchief dance. The subtitle of her autobiography, "America's Prima Ballerina," is more than justified.

Link to comment

I'd like to add that, as valuable and attractive as is "Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses," it is not definitive. For whatever reasons it omits two muses who were also wives: Vera Zorina and Tanaquil Le Clercq. Tanny's NY Times obituary on January 1, 2001, noted that she created 32 roles for Ballet Society and NYCB. She was also the only one of Balanchine's muse/wives or almost-wives, who did not publish her memoirs. Instead she wrote a book about their cat.

Link to comment

To bring up a more sensitive area (and one where I'm making a lot of conjectures, feel free to correct my facts if they're wrong!); one quality of a muse is the fact that you've linked your ambitions and aspirations to someone else's success. I think we should be grateful to the muses out there, but I could certainly understand someone else not wanting the job. Tallchief's first recital consisted of her first playing a piano concerto, then dancing. She was an accomplished woman who credits Balanchine with completing her development as a dancer, but everything I've read suggests someone with a very strong sense of her own identity as well. The consequences of this can certainly be discussed but it seems Farrell was more willing to accept the role of muse; and this becomes no longer a question of who was the better or more inspiring dancer, but who was more willing to accept someone else's identity as defining their own.

Link to comment

It's certainly true that Farrell was not only willing to accept the role of muse, but eager for it. In both her book and the Elusive Muse film she says of Balanchine, "He was choreographing my life and that was fine with me."

But in her book The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, Francine Prose differentiates Farrell from the other women in her book. "Perhaps uniquely in the lives of the muses, the partnership of Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine suggests that the roles of inspired and inspirer CAN be divided and shared between a man and a woman, two artists collaborating to produce work that neither could accomplish alone."

Alexandra, forgive me for playing dumb: What is a Farrellism?

Link to comment

calliope, calliope, come back.....

FF, there's an essay by Croce called "Farrell and Farrellisms" where she complained -- or pointed out -- the changes in style that were creeping into the company in the 1970s, because the corps women were imitating Farrell's idyosyncracies (the arms, the hands, the off-center poses). I was struck by how clean and, well, old-fashioned the dancing looked in DC. Happily so, I might add :) (I liked Farrell's style for her, but grew tired of seeing it cloned.)

Link to comment

sorry, trouble with site for me, switched to wireless, pinging problem I think. okay, back to a static line

Would Whelan be Wheeldon's muse?

I'd certainly consider Kistler to be Martins' muse and Margaret Tracey as well.

I think times have changed and we have so few muses because we've had so few (as Leigh said) who are willing to take the "job" and too few choreographers who feel the need to have one. Perhaps the muses were the first "stars" of ballet and again, the lack of them now is depressing.

Farrell Fan, where's LeClercq in that listing? Surely she had more than 4 done on her to qualify her ;)

Link to comment

Calliope -- In the NY Times obituary it said "Ms. Le Clercq created 32 roles for Ballet Society and City Ballet." But that doesn't necessarily mean she beats out Tallchief for the most Balanchine roles created, because she also danced Robbins and Ashton. This numbers game is silly anyway, and confusing. But for some reason neither Le Clercq nor Vera Zorina were included in the Tracy book.

Link to comment
I think times have changed and we have so few muses because we've had so few (as Leigh said) who are willing to take the "job" and too few choreographers who feel the need to have one. Perhaps the muses were the first "stars" of ballet and again, the lack of them now is depressing.

Might I suggest that very many choreographers have muses but sometimes they become afraid of them? The power issue? Is the choreographer in charge? Will the muse overstep his/her role in the relationship? Will the muse become more important than the choreographer? I think many choreographers could mention a dancer or two that embody their choreographic intents more clearly and quickly than anyone else. But there is that ego issue, and I think for the creative juices to flow properly the choreographer must feel secure... Balanchine doesn't seem to have been too worried about that with his female dancers. [Although Gelsey Kirkland seemed to feel the door shut permanently on her when she left NYCB. And Farrell had a hard time of it when she married Mejia.] All the same, it seems like he had a different sort of relationship with his male muses. (I assume one can have a male muse?)

Perhaps it is hard for dancers to be as giving as choreographers need them to be.

And it must be unnerving for management to have dancers have that much power.

Link to comment

I think the reason for the lack of "Farrellisms" is that Suzanne does not encourage them. When she coaches, from what I remember, she teaches the steps to the music (not her own mannerisms) and then tries to bring out the dancers own personal qualities. I remember watching her coach the pas de deux from Agon, and when one of the dancers pointed out that Suzanne's execution of the steps on the video differed from what she had taught, she said that that had been the music as she felt it at that moment... a personal mannerism. She did not allow imitation.

Link to comment

Let us not forget, while breaking down the numbers, that timing, character, and circumstance play an important role here. For example, if Allegra Kent had not resisted Balanchine and insisted on having all those babies, Farrell might well have found the muse spot securely occupied when she arrived.

I think the balance of power in the creator/muse relationship is finally in favor of the creator, and while women traditionally have been better able to adjust to playing the secondary role, sometimes even glorying in it, after awhile others chafe. It's even harder for men, as Erick and Martha could tell you.

Link to comment

I think one of the advantages the later muses had regarding their place in history was that they were able to dance Balanchine's entire rep. We know what Farrell was like in Tallchief's roles (Scotch Symphony, Allegro Brillante, Swan Lake, Nutcracker), but we've never seen Tallchief dance, say, Chaconne or Walpurgisnacht Ballet.

Plus, recordings of Farrell are more readily available (until the two Tallchief tapes were recently released). Farrell also was a star during the "Ballet Boom." Descriptions of her in many books that came out during the 70s and 80s, especially in the collected reviews of Arlene Croce. Also, Farrell's story has a gothic allure. I think Croce wrote in her review of Farrell's autobiography that it was the perfect story for an anti-romantic age.

I don't like comparing the muses - they're all wonderful :) But this thread reminded me of an interview from Ballet Review called, "Diana Adams on Suzanne Farrell" with David Daniel. It's interesting to read one great ballerina commenting on another. Here's a few of Adams' responses regarding the place Farrell had as Balanchine's muse.

"The simple fact remains that no one has ever worked with him the way (Farrell) has. I remember saying to Mme (Nathalie) Gleboff (of SAB) - it was towards the end of Suzanne's third year in the company - "no wonder he wants her to do everything. All you have to do is look at a class. She's the only one who does everything he asks."

Adams spoke about how difficult Balanchine's class was, "But Suzanne! She just did it -- everthing -- as if she didn't know or care that it was supposed to be difficult. ... If Balanchine said to do something, she never bothered to consider its difficulty or impossibility. She assumed it was possible, and did it. If he made a suggestion to her she applied it immediately and without question. She didn't hold back, didn't argue. She never even said, `But...' Now that may not seem unusual to you, but I've seen dancers argue with Balanchine about the correct way to do a plie. ... The intensity of her concentration was almost terrifying to watch. He'd give one of his paralyzing combinations; you'd be exhausted even before the music started. but Suzanne would zip through it without batting an eye. She didn't even sweat. Whatever quirky movement or odd rhythm he gave, she'd take it in and feed it back to him. He began to make things harder and harder. Suzanne inhaled and kept going. Balanchine was thrilled to have a dancer like that, and he often said so."

On her gifts: "Suzanne is unusual for the sheer qualities of her physical gifts. Yes, she's a natural adagio dancer, but she's also naturally very speedy." ... "Almost any dancer, regardless of her gifts, begins her career by accepting a limitation about herself. By the time she is in terms of her physique and personality, she has typed herself as a soubrette, or an allegro, lyric, dramatic, adagio, or whatever ... Suzanne didn't; she bypassed the idea of self-classification according to type as if the idea never existed, which meant that every ounce of her talent was available to Balanchine. She refused to limit herself. Whatever Balanchine thought was possible, she thought was possible. ... There wasn't anything she couldn't do. Her range is unheard of. I remember once, a few yeas after I stopped dancing, I remarked to Balanchine that in one week Suzanne had danced ballets from the reperatories of virtually every important dancer he'd ever worked with besides dancing pieces he'd made for her. He just sort of nodded and said, `Well, you see, dear, Suzanne never resisted.'"

That last comment is possibly why Farrel is often put ahead of the muses.

I also came across an opinion of Tallchief in an old interview I just read with Andre Eglevsky in Ballet Review with Baird Hastings.

"(She was) quite lovely. Clean -- technically brilliant. In Sylvia, in the coda, she did releves en attitude en avant, (turning) both arms closed at unbelievable speed, and this is what Balanchine set. Really unbelievable speed, really she was brilliant. Clean, neat, feet nice. Very musical."

"You can see (the musicality) in certain parts, especially in something like Allegro Brillante, the ability to go from allegro to adagio work very easily, the transitions from very fast little steps to more expansive work."

"She was a finished dancer. She had quality. she had excessively fast technique. She could fouette with eyes closed. Her balance was exquisite. ... Balanchine always choreographed things where Maria was just balance -- Scotch, Sylvia, Nutcracker, everything, the ends, just balance -- everything was balance for Maria."

And the great thing is, you can see Sylvia Pas de Deux now and it does have many balances. Just as Diamonds shows off Farrell's ability to be off balance/yet stay on balance, or Allegra Kent's flexibility and remoteness in Episodes and Bagaku, or Melissa Hayden's swagger in Stars and Stripes. Or the 2nd movement of Symphony in C, which I had seen many times before seeing a picture of Tamara Toumanova in a tutu. When I did, I saw she had great, strong, thick legs. And then I thought about the moment in the second movement when the ballerina in a supported arabesque, slowly bends her knee and then gets up slowly and then repeats it in the other direction. Balanchine used those strong legs and made something beautiful that ballerinas would have to contend with for years.

I also agree with Leigh that there is a link or a "lineage" of the muses that is even relected a little bit today - Toumanova to Leclerq to Adams to Kent and Farrell to Kistler and a little Calegari to, I don't know Kowroski and Meunier?

Or Marie-Jeanne or Mary Ellen Moylan to Tallchief to Wilde and Hayden to Verdy to Ashley to Nichols (who does have a little bit of the Toumanova line in her) to Wheese perhaps, although Margeret Tracy did a lot of the Tallchief rep.

Weese and Tracy also did a lot of the Patricia McBride rep. Who came before McBride?

Link to comment

Dale, thank you for those wonderful quotes from Diana Adams. It's so gratifying to hear one ballerina praise another. But perhaps that is characteristic of muses, whose first devotion must be to the artist they inspire.

You asked who Patricia McBride's predecessor was. I remember Arlene Croce once writing that the ballerina whom McBride most resembled was Marie-Jeanne, and went on to praise McBride's performance of one of Balanchine's works for M-J, Ballet Imperial (or Tchaikovsky Concerto #2).

I must say I'm surprised by the relatively little discussion about Tanaquil Le Clerq. Many writers, including Croce, have stressed the importance of Le Clerq to the development of the "Balanchine ballerina." And her influence continued even after her retirement—Croce once suggested that Balanchine choreographed the Agon pas de deux (on Adams) with Le Clerq in mind.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...