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Suzanne Farrell's Notes from the Ballet

Suzanne Farrell
Dear ballet lovers -

Here you will find my ongoing thoughts and observations on ballet performances taking place at the Kennedy Center. I hope you enjoy them!

Suzanne Farrell signiture
Suzanne Farrell

Artistic Advisor for Kennedy Center Ballet and Artistic Director of the Kennedy Center's own ballet company, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

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Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in 'Diamonds', photo by Rosalie O'Connor (2013) The Suzanned Farrell Ballet: Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in Diamonds, photo by Rosalie O'Connor (2013)

Performed by New York City Ballet April 1 & 4–6

For our 10th anniversary engagement in 2012, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed Diamonds (see photo at right), the final section of Jewels that George Balanchine made on me in 1967. You can listen to my 2012 podcast here, in which I talked about how Jewels came to be and about my experiences learning and dancing Diamonds.

But since I've also staged all three parts of Jewels several times as a Balanchine répetiteur—including performances at The National Ballet of Canada and Cincinnati Ballet—there is definitely more to talk about!

As I write in my autobiography Holding on to the Air:

"Although Jewels is without story, it is not without motifs, and I have always felt that the thread that connects the three gems is woven by walking. Each of the three sections makes a statement about a very specific style of walking—Rubies tips the scale at one end with a turned-in, cocky kind of strut, a Stravinskian strut; Emeralds has a low, delicate walk marked by a slow, underwater weightiness, a very French allure; while Diamonds tips the scale at the opposite end with a proud, high, exposed kind of prance, like a Russian thoroughbred."

The movement in Rubies is very whimsical, capricious, and seemingly unpredictable—and rightly so, since it's performed to Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Indeed, the title informs the movement. From my perspective, I can also see how the pas de deux in Balanchine's 1964 ballet Clarinade, set to jazz music composed by Morton Gould, might have been a stepping stone for the jazzy movement that Mr. B elaborated on in Rubies three years later. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is the only company that dances the pas de deux as a separate entity, as part of my Balanchine Preservation Initiative.

Emeralds, meanwhile, is danced to the quiet, moving strains of music from Gabriel Fauré's Pelléas et Mélisande and Shylock. It's the only part of Jewels that Mr. B amended after its premiere. Though it was rare for him to do this with his ballets, Mr. B eventually added another pas de deux for the first ballerina and a pas de sept at the end, as somewhat of an apotheosis that brings together the lead dancers once more to reiterate the walking motif and summarize the mood of the piece.

As for Diamonds, which is danced to all but the first movement of Tchaikovsky's "Polish" Symphony No. 3, I've always felt it requires a relatively tall ballerina. (Though when casting a ballet, you can't always ensure that happens. You must choose the dancer who moves in the manner the ballet calls for.) The entire pas de deux is based on the concept of diagonals; its "pulling away" sequences are more dramatic the further apart the dancers can get from each other. So I think it's more exciting if the ballerina has long limbs to help create more extended, tension-filled lines.

Looking ahead, check out the Kennedy Center's upcoming 2014-2015 ballet season, which was just announced earlier this month. I'm excited for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet to officially open the new Kennedy Center ballet season at the Opera House over the Thanksgiving weekend. Our program, which will feature three company premieres and the return of one of Balanchine's greatest ballets, promises to be a visual feast.

Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook, and company in 'Movements for Piano and  Orchestra'(2010), photo by Carol Pratt The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook, and company in Movements for Piano and Orchestra (2010), photo by Carol Pratt

Mr. B's original 1951 version of Swan Lake is the very essence of Act 2, while he once said that his tour de force Allegro Brillante "contains everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes." And his combined "white ballets" Monumentum Pro Gesualdo/Movements for Piano and Orchestra (see photo at right) are the pure distillation of Balanchine's collaboration with Igor Stravinsky. The program will end with Jerome Robbins's delightfully witty The Concert (or The Perils of Everybody), which will send you out into the night laughing and content. All of our performances will be accompanied by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

I hope you'll join us in the fall!