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Magazines: Suzanne Farrell profile

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The January 6 New Yorker has an epiphany indeed -- an article by Joan Acocella titled "Second Act -- Suzanne Farrell returns with a company of her own." There is a photo of the young Suzanne in "Don Quixote" which has had me palpitating since I opened the magazine. Inevitably, much of the piece is about Balanchine. Acocella reveals that in 2005 Suzanne "hopes to stage the three-act Don Quixote. She also posits an interesting distinction between Balanchine and Peter Martins: "Where Balanchine was an idealist, a mystic of sorts, Martins was skeptical, ironical, up-to-date." She has a moving few paragraphs on the transformation of Peter Boal when he danced "Apollo" for Farrell. Not least, Acocella quotes Alexandra about the Farrell Company. All in all, I haven't been as excited about a New Yorker piece in a very long time. :)

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Guest Nanatchka

Note witty quotation therein from Alexandra, writing in Washington Post. I have been thinking about Joan's article all day. We'll never know, but I wonder if Suzanne Farrell had staged Balanchine's ballet's at NYCB, if we would have been ecstatic, or agitated. What one really wants is for things to be the way they were, and that can never be. In this dance is just like life, but more clear. I think that one can never equal the ideal situation of a choreographer watching his own work from the wings.

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Thanks for the advance warning on a Farrell-restaged Don Q. It had me palpitating too, right before the retching started. This gives me plenty of time to volunteer for the crew of the International Space Station for that year!;)

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Oh, not another, "You're making it all up and looking at everything through rose-colored glasses" post! A new little cousin for our old favorite, "Were Ulanova and Fonteyn really any better than Paloma Herrera and Yvonne Borree?" :)


Of course, one has every right to disagree with the idea that Farrell's stagings are sound, or imaginative, or whatever; I have no quarrel with that. But I think the implication that anyone who says they are is desperately trying to recapture a bygone age, etc etc, is a bit much. (My standard answer to the "Were Ulanova etc" question above.)


Yes, I think the same people would be making the same comments were Farrell staging at NYCB. If Balanchine were still there, she wouldn't be staging them, of course. I don't think she, or Villella, whose stagings are also excellent, or Elyse Borne, whose "Serenade" for Washngton Ballet was divine, are trying to recreate anything. They're trying to make the ballets look alive.



(I haven't read the Profile yet, so I can't comment on it.)

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I particularly like Acocella's closing sentences: "Perhaps what we are seeing in the Farrell Ballet is an avatar of the early Balanchine, young and crazy. Maybe it has to be this way every time."

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I would be very happy to see Balanchine's "Don Q" -- no matter who staged it! Many people did hate it, but I have quite a few friends who loved it and felt it was very misunderstood and undervalued. So to me, that's good news!

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I've been thinking about the article all day long too! First, what a wonderful thing it is to read Acocella's words on ballet in the New Yorker. Even if she writes about the pinky on the last girl in the last line of the corps, I want to read it. And I want her to write about it.


Secondly, it was wonderful to read about my all-time favorite ballerina, Suzanne Farrell. And the thought of the restaging of Balanchine's Don Q. is a delightful prospect, not one of dread. I think the variations and moonlight ballet were some of the most astounding choreography ever made - off-balance, creepy, heavenly - but I have doubts that dancers today could tackle some of it. Morris' variation, for example, with those lightning fast triple turns with little preparation, or Farrell's jumps where her body is leaning in the opposite direction. I'd like to see it.


That morality, mystery, or sense of doing something special is missed sometimes at the theatre now. Is it old fashioned? Yes, I think it's wonderful that dancers have better healthcare now, that they get educated for life after dance, but I miss the surrender to the dance that Farrell exhibited. There are still some dancers around who have that spark, imagination and musicality. And I'm sure they'd be more around if there were more coaches and ADs that could bring it out.


But I'm not criticizing NYCB coaches. I've seen Hendl, Leland and even Martins in action and I could see positive results. But I also believe that Farrell has a special way with coaching too. Although I didn't see her most recent stagings in October, I did see her company the last two seasons they came to the New York area and the performances in 1995. I've also seen her stagings at Miami City Ballet (Diamonds), the Kirov (Scotch Symphony), the Bolshoi (Mozartiana) and DTH (Prodigal Son) and the proof of her talent as a coach is right there on the stage. Was she perfect when she started? Maybe not. Everybody has to learn. But under SF, I've seen so-so dancers become good, good dancers touch greatness and great dancers do some of their best work. There has to be a reason why top dancers such as Peter Boal and Goh make the time to work with her. Alexopolous, Calegari too.


It would have been wonderful to have Farrell spreading her "Ballerina Polish" at NYCB. She wouldn't have had to replace anybody. Merrill Ashley was given a spot at the company, AND a title when she retired.


Ah, maybe it is just as well Farrell has her own company. I only hope she brings the group up to the New York area every year :)


But regarding the article, it was interesting to read Farrell's view on dancing and performing. Her teaching reminded me of one of my french horn teachers, William Brown (ballet connection - he played in the orchestra during the Royal Ballet's visits to the United States). He was the teacher we all went to understand what our "real" horn teachers were trying to teach us. The part where Farrell is described tell her students to make every moment of a developpe interesting reminded me how I was supposed to make even a scale or a finger exercise musical. When Farrell talks about having her dancers stop looking in the mirror, I was reminded about Brown's constant instructions about forgetting the product, just concentrate on the process. It would be interesting to see how many of Farrell's summer students get into NYCB. I thought the company missed out on Amy Watson, a tall Farrellesque mover. But they have Sophie Flack. Didn't Teresa Reichlen study with Farrell?

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Ari posted this Monday on Links, but for those who didn't see it:


This week's New Yorker has a profile of Suzanne Farrell. It isn't online, but there is a short interview with the author, Joan Acocella.



This interview is NOT in the print magazine (and the Profile is not on line). Clever New Yorker!

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I enjoyed this very much. I also regret the less than frequent ballet coverage we see in The New Yorker these days, but this is nice, too.


We get far less of the devout-Catholic-girl stuff than I've read in previous profiles (and Farrell's own book) an omission for which I was grateful.


You have to do a little reading between the lines, but it's fairly clear from the article why Farrell is not applying any "ballerina polish" at NYCB, and both sides seem to have a case. (There is an odd addition to The Sins of Peter Martins: "[Martins] set up seminars where dancers talked about being working mothers." Deplorable.) The profile focuses on the present, fortunately, and the account of Farrell's method and manner as a coach is fascinating.


My understanding is that although Don Q was a deeply flawed work with a less than ideal score, there were many valuable, even great, things in it and if anyone stages it anywhere I'm on the next plane. It does seem to me, however, that to mount such a large and problematic work would be a challenging and difficult undertaking for a company of the first rank with unlimited resources at its disposal, which Farrell obviously doesn't have. I hope she succeeds, of course, but in less-than-ideal circumstances it could be grisly.

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Guest Nanatchka
Originally posted by Alexandra

[that Farrell's stagings are sound, or imaginative, or whatever; I have no quarrel with that. But I think the implication that anyone who says they are is desperately trying to recapture a bygone age, etc etc, is a bit much.


Well, I didn't mean them. I meant me. I want to live in the past of these ballets. They were just so beautiful

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Actually, I'll probably end up going to see Don Q, if only for the forest pas d'action. I was always able to get a seat for the original production, for some reason.;)

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Guest Michael

Although I very much liked the parts of the article where Farrell discussed her coaching techniques ... I had the opposite reaction to many of those who posted above. I fear to offend Joan's many friends but --


I found little new in the article. It is generally "Elusive Muse" tacked on to (and interpolated with) a very positive review of Farrell's company's recent performances. I felt that the article lacks depth -- Not just nothing not already well known but, above all, little new insight or persepctive on any of it. Contrast that with a quick look at Arlene Croce's old profile of Edward Villella, where even an old fan of his who knew the subject well would -- I imagine -- have found much food for thought.


But I have been a little distressed by Acoccella's recent articles in the New Yorker in general these days, feeling that the subjects she has treated have somehow seemed to grow a little smaller than life, to find themselves somehow diminished in her hands. (I'm thinking of her piece on the Kirov last year in particular). Again, in Croce's pieces, things grew larger, even Croce's dislikes, and perhaps that also was a great distortion. I would say that the Croce/Acocella comparison was "invidious," except that because Accocella is Croce's immediate "successor in office" I think it is fair to compare.


The one exception to this general reaction of mine to Acocella's recent work is her excelllent recent review of a (very bad) biography of Primo Levi, where she showed great passion for her subject and deployed a great deal of forensic skill in unravelling just what was so execrable in the biography. Perhaps it was the engagement, the passion for her subject, that was the difference? And perhaps it was Croce's passion and engagement with her subject, her writing so very much from her heart, that forms a great difference? But not all the difference. In the end you have to be impressed with the insights of an author in order to find it truly rewarding to keep reading them.


Oh my Gosh, I've just realized there is a sort of parallell here: NYCB is not the same without Balanchine and the New Yorker without Arlene Croce. Balanchine and Croce, were they not joined at the waist? I would gladly be proven wrong. Happy New Years every one. I think I'll go to bed.

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No, Michael, I don't think you're wrong! Croce had a way of being all-encompassing and just the writer to have about when Balanchine was creating, and Joffrey was producing, and ABT was constantly reinventing itself, all in New York in one year. She is sorely missed.:)

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I just finished the piece and was, like Michael, most interested in the parts on coaching. Acocella seemed surprised that it wasn't all about steps, and I wanted to jump and yell, 'NO! IT'S NOT ABOUT THE STEPS! IT'S NEVER BEEN ABOUT THE STEPS!!!!" The dancers can figure out how to do the steps. It's all the other things that make the difference.


I was glad to have a recap of the history. I wonder if the current New Yorker could support more depth? When Croce was writing, half of the American ballet world, if not more, hung on her every word. They wanted to know every little detail. That's not the case now. I thought she was deliberately writing for a general readership -- an intelligent readership, but not a dance one. (A personal note: I hesitate to write this, but feel I should, as the "I know X is a friend of yours" has come up occasionally about Acocella or other critics. Although I like and respect Joan Acocella, we're friendly colleagues, not friends; we speak maybe twice a year. I could say the same thing about several other New York writers. And even if we were bosom buddies, anyone is perfectly welcome to post quibbles or negative comments as well as positive ones, about her work or that of any other critic, including this one!)


When you do a Profile piece like this, your guy is supposed to be the Only Guy in the World, but I do worry that we're getting to another polarized place -- Everything Peter Martins and his staff does is Bad; Everything Suzanne Farrell does is Good -- and this leaves out several other people who are doing good work.


I join in the voices that say, more dance pieces in the New Yorker, and more than just about Baryshnikov, Morris, Farrell. I hope there will be reviews, good or bad, of what's happening in dance in New York, 'cause, like, it's The New Yorker!

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