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Endings: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Faces Its Last Season
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."
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.