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."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.