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Magazines: Suzanne Farrell profile


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Guest Nanatchka

It's that opening, with the ballerina seeming to invoke something from above--Once Balanchine was dead, it always looked to me as if the ballerina were summoning him, from somewhere up above the chandeliers in the State Theatre. As if he had said, "Dance this ballet, and I am with you." (He's the "partner" for the ballerina, really.)I had this feeling distinctly when Maria Calegari first took over Farrell's role. ("The redhead, so beautiful," as Balanchine said.)I would suppose it is different for ballerinas who did not know him, but the notion still persists, at least for me.

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But I do think atm's point is a good one to remember. The ballet WAS done earlier and no one wrote about it as a reflection of Balanchine's recent brush with tuberculosis. We layer our own meanings onto ballets, and sometimes they make it into print, and these then become everyone's images and meanings.

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Guest atm711

The point I was trying to make is that the 1945 version of the 'Ave, Verum Corpus' could also be interpreted as being about death--it was sad and lyrical, and it was not interpreted as being about HIS death. I see no reason for connecting his death to the later version.

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If Balanchine's health had been visibly failing and he had died a year or two after completion of the first version, it might have been, however.

 

The general principle that one should proceed with care when applying biography to art is always a good idea, and one that it's wise to keep in mind.

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The mystique of Mozartiana has been promulgated by Farrell herself. Even the title of her autobiography refers to it. In the book, she writes of having "a dream so vivid that I could not distinguish between sleeping and waking. Although we had not begun the ballet and I had no idea of its format or implications, I dreamed about Mozartiana. I was in a place composed of tall spires. There was sound, not Mozartiana, but a kind of shattering, prophetic, organ-like sound, and I was walking on the vibrating spires upward from one pinacle to another. It wasn't precarious. My footing was very stable; I was holding on to the air."

 

She concludes that chapter with this paragraph: "Balanchine at the age of seventy-seven had given us a vision of heaven as he interpreted it from the Lord's Prayer, 'on earth as it is in heaven,' and it was a very beautiful place indeed, a place past desire, where dancers perform for the glory of God. My dream of climbing spires was answered -- Mozartiana was the light. It was because this ballet existed that I could survive the death of the man who made it."

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Thanks, Alexandra, for questioning--more diplomatically than I would have--the level of depth in Acocella's piece. I think, though, one of the shallow areas concerns Suzanne's change of heart regarding running a company. For one, to put it bluntly, she wasn't good at transmitting her ideas to dancers. I watched one of her coaching sessions in the early 80s--at Chicago City Ballet where she was coaching Bugaku. To be sure, this was not one of her primary roles (although she did dance it, of course), but she had definite ideas about how it should be done and an uncanny mastery of the choreography. The problem was that when she became exasperated with the principal woman in the rehearsal, she just stopped talking and started dancing it herself, full steam ahead. Acocella's article *hints* at her growth in patience with dancers, but I wanted to know more.

 

As ever, I also wanted to hear more about the reasons for the paucity of women in leadership positions in ballet. Suzanne's life story sheds really important light on this phenomenon.

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Thanks for that story, Ray -- it fits in much of what I've read. Perhaps what's most interesting now about Farrell is that she has gotten past this and can now look at what is in front of her instead of sticking to preconceived notions. Don't all dancers start out that way when they begin to coach? If they're lucky, they have someone older and wiser around who'll say, "I wouldn't do that," or "Remember you were 5'7 and she's 5'3. Don't you think this or that should be adjusted because of the height difference?" or whatever. And some listen and some don't. Farrell seems to have listen and grown.

 

I also would like to say, just for clarification, that I didn't mean to call the piece shallow, although you are welcome to :) My guess is that Acocella was writing a general interest piece, something intended for anyone who picks up the New Yorker, and put in as much detail as she and her editors thought that readership would tolerate.

 

I say this from some experience, because my book has extensive material on coaching and that was the section in which prospective mainstream publishers were especially disinterested :)

 

I'd like to read more about how Farrell coaches, too -- and how other good coaches coach -- and I hope we'll be able to read about that in the future.

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And I'll clarify to support your clarification: I said the piece had shallow *areas* (and that's just my opinion). You're dead-on in identifying the register in which JA pitches the story.

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Very interesting post, Ray. I think in Farrell's case the sex issue may be a moot point. Certainly a man who held her position in the company would have been first in line for consideration as successor; on the other hand, if she'd been a man she wouldn't have had her special relationship to Balanchine.

 

I have noticed, however, that the Impossible to Deal With bar seems to be considerably lower for women than men. :D

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Amen! I've seen so many more men (straigt and gay) throw tantrums than women in class, rehearsal, and even--yes it's true--in performance.

 

Suzanne was a model of focus and concentration, even when being manhandled by a group of *very* inexperienced "partners" (I should know--I was one of them!) or neglected by an experienced one as he flirted, from center stage, with dancers in the wings.

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Guest Doris R

Okay, I don't subscribe to The New Yorker, so I checked out their website and it doesn't mention this article. Is it in the current newstand issue, or do I need to make a trip to the local library to see if they still have it? I'd really like to read the article. My daughter thinks the world of Miss Farrell so I'm always interested in reading about her. Please let me know if I need to go to Borders or the library to find it.

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Something that's been touched on in this thread hit home today. A friend of mine who's not a ballet fan said he'd read the New Yorker article on Suzanne Farrell and thought it was "wonderful." He said he felt as though he'd learned a lot about Balanchine, ballet, and Suzanne. So while some of us may have been bothered by the recycled material, the much-prized "general reader" was very pleased and impressed. At least in Ken's case.

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Guest Calliope

I remember stories of Suzanne teaching the Kirov, Lezhnina particular, in Scotch Symphony, and Lezhnina wanted the music slowed down, Farrell was pretty upset with her on that.

I think ballerinas used to just be "good" and take direction, not ever talk back, that all changed.

 

A friend, also a non-ballet goer, thought it was a "readable" article, as she put it, no ballet babble.

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