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Magazines: Suzanne Farrell profile


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I’d love to see dance coverage in every issue. But as Mel noted, in Croce’s day she had plenty to write about. If Acocella is assigned to write for the general public, is there enough quality work being done in New York or even in Washington for her to write more frequently?

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  • Alexandra

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  • dirac

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  • Farrell Fan

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I think that if a magazine like the New Yorker carries regular coverage of any art form, it will develop a readership for that art form. I also think that the dance scene should be COVERED, for good or ill. Otherwise, there will be no record. (I now feel passionately about this after writing a biography. I often had six reviews of a single performance. Reading them, I could tell which were the people who knew very little about ballet, which were the ones who hated anything that didn't look like Martha Graham, or have sex and drugs as its subject matter, and which could look at a Balanchine ballet, say, and see what was there. Anyone trying to write about the current epoch 50 years from now will be out of luck!)

 

I think also people forget, especially those who have been writing for awhile, that the people just discovering dance RIGHT NOW didn't live through the past 30 years, either on stage or in print, and have no way of knowing the things that the writer presupposes they know. I remember when Croce stopped writing about the Stuttgart -- which played New York regularly back then -- I wondered why. So she hated Cranko. She thought the company wasn't very good. Then say so. You have to say it every season because every season there's someone new reading you. (Of course, then you fall into the Honest Abe Tobias trap. Write about what you believe, year in and year out, and people will call you jaded and negative.)

 

The newsworthy angle is a troubling one. A newspaper only wants what's new -- new work, new debut, new trend. This takes away any overview, any sense of perspective. Maybe the great performance of the season is Miss X's third "Chaconne". One of the greatest set of performances I ever saw were the last ones Nureyev did before he went off to film "Valentino." (The balcony was hung with signs that said, "Hurry Back, Sheikh!") He got his second wind at the beginning of the second series of turns in "Four Schumann Pieces" at the Saturday matinee, and you could see it. All of a sudden, the energy he'd been measuring had increased tenfold, and he poured it out in four pefformances that were as close to perfection as anyone I've ever seen has come. No one reviewed it. They were sick of Rudiballet then -- it was the period when he basically rented the Met and had been dancing for months, night after night.

 

I think a magazine should cover what's happened that season, but not be news-driven. (It takes a lot of dedication for the writer to do that; you have to go, if not every night, then at least 4 or 5 times a week. Not many people can do that; one is certainly not paid to do that.)

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Guest Calliope

I couldn't but to feel the undertone of the piece was that if NYCB wanted to get on the straight and narrow, they needed to hire Farrell.

I liked it but so many contrasts.

Perhaps I missed it, but does she ever explain Suzanne's change of heart regarding running a company?

I liked the "explanation" Suzanne gives as to why Balanchine constantly changed his ballets and his "now" mentality. I think that spontaneity is missing, not just from NYCB, but from pretty much everyone right now.

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Originally posted by Calliope

Perhaps I missed it, but does she ever explain Suzanne's change of heart regarding running a company?

 

I think so. It wasn't a sudden decision, but a gradual one, and it's in the piece in the sections discussing her work with the Kennedy Center.

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While for many of us, the Farrell story is well-known, many of the magazines' readers might not know it. The piece was listed as a profile and put in the middle of the magazine for general reading, not in the critics' section under dancing. Acocella also describes certain ballet steps in a way I don't think she would have if she was writing for a dance publication.

 

I did notice that JA quotes from Farrell's autobiography and the film, but I can imagine, as a writer, what might have happened. Sometimes, you just don't get the access you need to get a full profile. I don't know, but maybe Farrell talked to JA for just 30 minutes and let her watch rehearsals. From what I've read and been told, Farrell doesn't grant interviews easily and prefers to talk to writers she knows. Maybe that's a black mark on her perfect image... But now JA has to write the promised profile. She has to fill in the gaps with interviews with other people and quotes from Farrell's book and film. Of course, I'm not sure that is what happened, but I've had it happen to me and you do what you've got to do.

 

I agree with Alexandra in that I hate to paint the picture that if you're pro Farrell, that you're anti Peter Martins and staff. As I said, I've seen excellent work done by certain coaches at NYCB. And sometimes I worry that articles such as the one on Farrell or Homans' reviews only make the powers that be at NYCB get more defensive. I'm sure Barnes will be dispatched to the front shortly :D

 

Regarding Don Q - I was worried when Farrell scheduled La Sonnambula two years ago. Even Scotch Symphony. I just didn't know if she had a real corps de ballet and soloists to do the variations in the party scene. But La Sonnambula was well done. It was true, the corps and the demi soloists didn't bowl me over, but I could imagine that if they kept working together, the ballet would be extremely well done. So, I guess I would like to see at least the Act III dream ballet staged, and then add the Act II party scene and build the ballet up from there.

 

Ideally, I think the best chance for a permanant Suzanne Farrell Ballet company would be for her take over an existing small school-company. Right now, the troup seems like the early Balanchine-Kirstein ventures. They didn't have a lot of performances, but when Balanchine called, dancers came. They wanted to work and work with him. Farrell isn't Balanchine in that she is not a creator of ballets, but she does have something that dancers want (or should want).

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It's true that the account of Farrell's career follows a path already outlined in Holding On to the Air and Elusive Muse, and it does feel like a retread, but much of that information would be unfamilar to many general readers. And Farrell is not a figure like Baryshnikov who's had half a dozen books or more devoted to his life and/or career and gets lots of media attention.

 

 

I think Calliope may be right about the undertone. (And one did get the impression of being presented with a New and Improved Suzanne, more collegial, less divalike and "standoffish.")

 

 

I would hope that people will find ways to praise Farrell's efforts without using her as a stick to beat Martins with. (I'm not suggesting that Acocella intended to do that.) Parenthetically, it's interesting that it was another New Yorker article, David Daniel's "In Balanchine's Footsteps," which took the gossip about Farrell's underuse by the company public and is said to have played a part in precipitating Farrell's dismissal from NYCB.

 

 

The dance scene in New York may not be what it used to be, but I'd agree emphatically with Alexandra that true or not, that issue is beside the point. A lengthy profile of Farrell is great to see, but there are hardly any reviews of her troupe or NYCB (or other companies) to put it into some kind of context. You need coverage of the daily events, however uninspiring, to put a Big Event like the Kirov's bringing "Jewels" to town into perspective. And it seems to me that a magazine like The New Yorker is there to do things like that.

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Guest Calliope

Perhaps if the italics after the article read.... company will be on tour.. I wouldn't have felt it was more an article with what's wrong with NYCB doing Balanchine and what's right with SFarrell Ballet (I guess I can't use SFB)

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I've been trying to keep a low profile on this thread, but I feel it necessary to say that Suzanne has never been "standoffish." Despite her onstage daring, she used to be extremely shy, and some misinterpreted her behavior for aloofness. She is stilll shy, but not as badly.

 

I had the same thought as dirac -- the last time the New Yorker did a piece about her, NYCB fired her. That can't happen this time. I also agree that one shouldn't use Farrell to beat Martins with. She's way above that.

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Farrell Fan, I certainly didn't intend to imply that I believed that Farrell was/is standoffish. It's a sad fact that shyness is often interpreted that way. Perceptions do matter, regrettably, and one thing I remember from Daniel's article was that he felt the need to refute the charge (among others) that Farrell was aloof, remote, and generally hard to deal with.

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Guest justafan

I actually thought the article was less about what was wrong with Martins and more about what is right with Suzanne than most articles about NYCB. I thought it was refreshing, compared to the usual stuff I read about the company -- which typically has an overt tone of "he's no Balanchine, he's ruining the company through neglect, and if you want evidence, he fired Farrell!"

 

I've never gotten the feeling that Acocella is a Martins supporter, but again, I think she takes a somewhat balanced view of things. Even though she is clearly not in the Martins camp, she has tried to avoid -- in print anyway -- overtly being one-sided. My beef with some of the critics is that they are so unhappy with Martins, they are blinded to what's right about the company.

 

This story basically recited the facts, and said Farrell's a great coach, it's sad she isn't part of NYCB. But she lives on! To my mind, that's fair.

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Guest atm711

JA made me wince with the following:

 

"Balanchine made 'Mozartiana' two years before his death, and many people believe that it is about his death". He also did a similar version of 'Mozartiana' in 1945 using the same "Ave, Verum Corpus". It was as beautiful as the later use of the music. In that production a lovely soloist named Dorothy Etheridge (think, Jenifer Ringer) performed this part, which was called 'Prayer' carried on stage in a reclining position supported by two men.---but, I am getting away f rom myself---in 1945 NOBODY said he was thinking of his death---so why second-guess him now?

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Yes, he did. I forget the title -- I think it was for a school performance -- and Le Clercq played a girl stricken with the disease -- a dancer in the character of Polio touched her and she fell to the ground, as I recall it described. A ghastly coincidence.

 

 

atm711, while it may be true that the second Mozartiana had thematic similarities to the first version, that doesn't mean that Balanchine didn't have special reasons for revisiting the piece at that particular time. I don't think it's necessarily "second-guessing" him to speculate in that vein. Acocella's remarks on the ballet made me stop and think, too, but in a slightly different vein. When I saw Mozartiana on television, it didn't seem to me to be directly about death, but about a place that transcended death --maybe heaven, maybe somewhere else, but another world. (Farrell says something similar in her book, I believe.)

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