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Suzanne Farrell: Balanchine's Muse—And More
Farrell rehearsing Cook and Magnicaballi at Center for Ballet & the Arts, NYU, photo courtesy Kennedy Center
On Sunday afternoon Suzanne Farrell, the great Balanchine muse, graced the stage of the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, courtesy of the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU. She showed a rehearsal of the master’s Gounod Symphony (1958) and gave a talk moderated by Jennifer Homans, founder/director of the Center.
Farrell’s devotion, spontaneity and playfulness shimmered with vitality. To everyone’s delight, her observations about teaching and setting ballets spilled into memories of her own dancing life. She gave the impression of being completely free in her relation to dance, and of totally trusting her instincts when it comes to Balanchine. Maybe she was more than a muse. I remember in one documentary, she described the way she worked with Balanchine in the studio as experimental. Maybe she was a collaborator as well as a muse.
Just as Balanchine would invoke Tchaikovsky’s ghost when he wanted to change the order of the music, she invokes Mr. B’s when she feels she needs to change the steps. When asked how she knows if it’s okay to change something, she said, “If he didn’t want me to change it, he would make it so I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror the next morning.”
Sunday at Skirball, the two excellent lead dancers from her DC–based company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, were Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook.
Courtesy Kennedy Center
Here are some of her bon mots, some of them addressed to her dancers, others addressed to the audience.
To the dancers:
- You are not dancing for him but because of him.
- I’m not sure I would smile [in this part] but you have to look alive and pleasant. So let us see that.
- When you get onstage, all that [rehearsing] disappears. I never knew exactly what I was going to do next.
- With different conductors, it’s a new life every time you get out there.
- We can never harness time. We have to live in the music we have. You have your pulse. Moving very fast and very slow opened up a wide range of music.
- We’re all vulnerable in dance. That’s what makes it alive.
- Are you comfortable there? Tracey, you don’t look comfortable.
Farrell rehearsing Magnicaballi and Cook in Balanchine's Monumentum, photo by Rosalie O'Connor for Pointe magazine
To the audience:
- The graveyard of ballets is well populated.
- Often steps get changed and it’s often the ones that are unique to that ballet.
- We have fun in the studio. Mistakes are fine. You just don’t want to make the same mistake.
- We are our own technology. All we have is who we are. We have to amplify. I say to my dancers, “Turn up the volume,” or “Let me see the technicolor in your eyes.”
- Everything we do defies gravity; we can’t perspire and we can’t make it look hard. It’s great to be a dancer!
- Dance is as big as the music allows.
- In many of Balanchine’s pas de deux, the man holds the woman’s wrist. It makes a better line and he can feel her pulse.
- In pas de deux, they have to know what each other is doing without looking at each other. Others come in and interrupt the dream.
- Mr. B’s ballets are memorable, not memories. You don’t’ want it to be a museum, but forever memorable.
- I don’t use the word change. I adapt. Mr. B would change the steps because they started to erode.
- You have to expand the number of dancers [to match the music]. All the senses should be satisfied.
- I would be remiss as a teacher if I held back.
- I still have dreams where I hear the music for my entrance and I can’t find the stage. I find a door and open it but it would be a black wall.
- I want to make you come into our world. You should be sitting on the edge of your seat like this, not back like this. You should want to participate. We give you everything.
New York City–based dancers know Gibney. It's a performance venue, a dance company, a rehearsal space, an internship possibility—a Rubik's Cube of resources bundled into two sites at 280 and 890 Broadway. And in March of this year, Gibney (having officially dropped "Dance" from its name) announced a major expansion of its space and programming; it now operates a total of 52,000 square feet, 23 studios and five performance spaces across the two locations.
Six of those studios and one performance space are brand-new at the 280 Broadway location, along with several programs. EMERGE will commission new works by emerging choreographic voices for the resident Gibney Dance Company each year; Making Space+ is an extension of Gibney's Making Space commissioning and presenting program, focused on early-career artists. For the next three years, the Joyce Theater Foundation's artist residency programs will be run out of one of the new Gibney studios, helping to fill the gap left by the closing of the Joyce's DANY Studios in 2016.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't possibly give you the amount of money you're asking for."
My heart sinks at my director's final response to my salary proposal. She insists it's not me or my work, there is just no money in the budget. My disappointment grows when handed the calendar for Grand Rapids Ballet's next season with five fewer weeks of work.
"It just...always looks better in my head."
While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.
We've been pretty excited about the series for a while, and now the wait is finally over. The first episode of the show, "The Denial," went live earlier today, and it's every bit as awkward, hilarious and relatable as we hoped.
Dancers crossing over into the fitness realm may be increasingly popular, but it was never part of French-born Julie Granger's plan. Though Granger grew up a serious ballet student, taking yoga classes on the side eventually led to a whole new career. Creating her own rules along the way, Granger shares how combining the skills she learned in ballet with certifications in yoga, barre and personal training allowed her to become her own boss (and a rising fitness influencer).
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
José Greco popularized Spanish dance in 1950s and '60s America through his work onstage and on screen. Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater's American Spanish Dance & Music Festival is honoring the icon in recognition of what would have been his 100th birthday. As part of the tribute, Greco's three dancing children are reuniting to perform together for the first time since their father's death in 2000. Also on the program is the premiere of contemporary flamenco choreographer Carlos Rodriguez's Mar de Fuego (Sea of Fire). June 15–17, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. ensembleespanol.org.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Christopher McDaniel and Crystal Serrano were working on Nacho Duato's Coming Together in rehearsal when McDaniel's foot hit a slippery spot on the marley. As they attempted a swinging lift, both dancers went tumbling, injuring Serrano as they fell. She ended up being out for a week with a badly bruised knee.
"I immediately felt, This is my fault," says McDaniel. "I broke my friend."
What's on the minds of college students today?
I recently had the honor of adjudicating at the American College Dance Association's National College Dance Festival, along with choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess and former National Endowment for the Arts dance specialist Douglas C. Sonntag. We chose three winners—one for Outstanding Choreography and two for Outstanding Performance—from 30 pieces representing schools throughout the country. It was a great opportunity to see what college dance students are up to—from the issues they care about to the kinds movement they're interested in exploring.
Here were the biggest trends and takeaways:
It's summer festival season! If you're feeling overwhelmed by the dizzying array of offerings, never fear: We've combed through the usual suspects to highlight the shows we most want to catch.
Subscription box services have quickly gained a dedicated following among the fashion and fitness set. And while we'd never say no to a box with new jewelry or workout wear to try, we've been waiting for the subscription model to make its way to the dance world.
Enter barre + bag, a new service that sends a curated set of items to your door each season. Created by Faye Morrow Bell and her daughter Tyler, a student in the pre-professional ballet program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, this just-launched service offers dance, lifestyle and wellness finds in four themed bags each year: Spring Performance, Summer Study, Back-to-Studio and Nutcracker. Since all the products are specifically made for dancers, everything barre + bag sends you is something you'll actually use, (Plus, it all comes in a bag instead of a box—because what dancer can ever have enough bags?).
barre + bag's Summer Collection
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.