Endings: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Faces Its Last Season

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy The Kennedy Center

When it was announced last fall that 2017 would be The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's final season, the news rippled through the American ballet community. Farrell, who for many represents the embodiment of George Balanchine's '60s and '70s style, had been producing lucid, emotionally connected performances of his works annually at The Kennedy Center since 2001. In that time, dozens of dancers took time away from their home companies to perform with her troupe and benefit from Farrell's coaching. "The dancers tell me they feel different" after working with her, Farrell says, because "I worked with Mr. Balanchine so closely that I know things other people don't."

Even more, she worked to preserve ballets that might otherwise have been forgotten. In 2007 she created the Balanchine Preservation Initiative dedicated to reviving Balanchine rarities, some of which, like Pithoprakta (1968) and the "Contrapuntal Blues" pas de deux from Clarinade (1964), are performed by no other company.

Suzanne Farrell rehearsing Balanchine's Gounod Symphony. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

But her troupe has faced challenges. Based at The Kennedy Center, which also underwrites the company's budget, the ensemble has always been a part-time affair, providing work for only short periods. This meant that the roster of dancers varied from year to year (though there were many who returned), as did, inevitably, the quality of performances. Overall, though, Farrell has been pleased with the results: "I feel proud of what I've done. This company is extraordinarily unique, and human."

The question, then, is why close now? It is not entirely clear whether the decision was Farrell's to make. According to a Kennedy Center representative, the arts complex's upcoming expansion created "a natural moment to transition." Farrell is also circumspect. Asked why, give the company's hard-won successes, she did not decide to persevere, she answers, enigmatically, "I don't really know. If I had my choice I would go on forever." Perhaps someday the details behind the decision will emerge.

For its final season, December 7–9, the company will perform a group of works closely linked with Farrell's own decades-long relationship to Balanchine. Serenade, from 1934, contains the first solo she ever danced at New York City Ballet, the "Dark Angel," set to the elegy from Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C. Tzigane and Meditation were both made for her. Chaconne, set to ballet music from Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice, contains one of Balanchine's most voluptuous pas de deux, created for Farrell and Peter Martins. Gounod Symphony, a large, formal ballet in the French style, is the latest rarity staged by Farrell. The arc of a career, on a single program.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in Balanchine's Meditation. Photo by Teresa Wood, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

What comes next is still unclear. According to a Kennedy Center representative, Farrell has been invited to "expand her teaching" within the new studio spaces being developed at the center. "We're still in the planning stages," echoes Farrell. Only one thing seems set—her three-week summer intensives (Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell) will continue. She's also thinking about writing another book, a sequel, perhaps, to her autobiography Holding On to the Air.

Whatever she does, she's unlikely to stray far from her core mission of teaching and passing on the ballets of George Balanchine. "I believe that ballet and Mr. B are my destiny," she says with quiet intensity over the phone, "and we'll go on somehow."

Image via Stock Snap

We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.

But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?

Keep reading... Show less
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

Keep reading at

Breaking Stereotypes
Melina and Regina Willoughby, photo by Ashley Concannon

There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
PC Getty Images

Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.

The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.

Keep reading... Show less
PC Kyle Rowling

You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.

1. Master the Basics

When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers & Companies
Photo by Mark Perry Shelby, Courtesy High10 Media.

Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.

You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Wilhelmina Frankfurt

Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.

In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?

—Injured Rockette, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Freddie Kimmel

Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."

But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
Kota Yamazaki, Mina Nishimura, Raja Feather Kelly and Julian Barnett, Photo by Janelle Jones

Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Keep reading... Show less





Get Dance Magazine in your inbox


Win It!