skip navigation | text only | accessibility | site map

Suzanne Farrell's Notes from the Ballet Archive

2007 - 2008

Ballet Across America

June 10-15 in the Opera House
Buy tickets

This weeklong celebration presented by the Kennedy Center is a unique way to explore, under one roof, some of the work being done by flourishing companies throughout the United States. Some of the ballets are relatively new, while others are considered modern classics. Three different programs will be presented throughout the week; each one highlights a company from the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. The first program features Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Salt Lake City's Ballet West. The second features The Washington Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet. The third features Boston Ballet, Chicago's The Joffrey Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theater.

Of the ballets on the first program, I've performed two. One is George Balanchine's Serenade, to be danced by Ballet West. Click here to read my Notes on Serenade, which I wrote earlier this year for another Kennedy Center presentation. The other is Jerome Robbins's In the Night, to be performed by Pennsylvania Ballet.

I first danced In the Night upon my return to NYC Ballet in 1975. Created five years earlier, the ballet was choreographed to nocturnes by Chopin. Robbins mentioned to me that he initially intended the music to be part of Dances at a Gathering, but later decided to create a separate ballet. There are three couples in all, each representing a different mood in separate movements before coming together for the finale. My personal interpretation is that the first couple is new and peaceful, the middle couple is more mature and independent – but still a harmonious unit – and the final couple depicts emotions at odds. I was cast in the couple from the middle movement; my role had originally been made on the wonderfully musical Violette Verdy.

Jerome Robbins and Suzanne Farrell

Robbins spent much of his early days in the world of Broadway, where choreographers typically rehearse with dancers for only a few weeks and then move on once the show premieres. Thus, he was known for having somewhat of a gypsy-like relationship with many dancers in the ballet company. He loved to make movement look spontaneous and enjoyed experimenting, though it was a kick to observe the times he'd wind up circling back to the instinctive ideas he started with. I had great pleasure working with Jerry on In the Night and some of his other ballets. (In 1985, he made a powerful ballet on me called In Memory of…). Robbins was still very energetic at the time and we shared a harmonious, respectful friendship both on and off the stage.

From the second Ballet Across America program, though I've never seen it, I've heard much about Todd Bolender's The Still Point, to be performed by Kansas City Ballet. Jacques d'Amboise and Melissa Hayden – both originals from the 1956 NYC Ballet premiere of the work – would frequently talk about it. Bolender, who passed away in 2006, was also a NYC Ballet company member from its earliest beginnings. I never had the opportunity to see him perform, though we often came together at galas and other functions and I enjoyed our talks. He was an original interpreter of roles in The Four Temperaments and Agon, so if you know those works, that might give you some insight into the kind of dancer he was and the artistic integrity he had.

Bolender choreographed The Still Point for a modern dance company a year before putting it on point for NYC Ballet. The work begins with three women and two men, but then four members pair off in couples. The final woman is left to ponder why she's been left behind, until she meets another male dancer. The music, by Debussy, is characteristically lyrical, so it will be interesting to see how the music's flowing sensibilities juxtapose with the final woman's anxieties of not fitting in.

Of the three ballets on the final program, Antony Tudor's Lilac Garden has the longest history. The Joffrey Ballet will be dancing it for this engagement. Lilac Garden follows a distinct narrative story about Caroline, a young woman engaged to marry someone she does not love. Tragically, she has feelings for another man. Tudor created several of these psychological ballets, filled with tension and secrecy, flowing period costumes, and themes of marriage by arrangement and impossible love. In 1964 at NYC Ballet, Tudor's Dim Lustre entered the repertoire. Originally choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, this ballet also offered great dance drama. Observing Tudor rehearse the dancers, I regarded the very tall, statuesque, and proper-looking English choreographer a formidable presence.

Protégés II

June 6-8 in the Opera House
Buy tickets

The Kennedy Center’s international ballet academy festival returns, this time with students from the Royal Ballet School, the Paris Opera Ballet School, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and the School of American Ballet, which I attended for one year. I’m pleased that my former school will be performing Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (more about that later in this article). The program enables us to see different training styles from around the world, and it appeals whether you’re a ballet fan, a young aspiring dance student, or just culturally curious.

I’ve staged ballets for the Bolshoi (Mozartiana and Agon), danced at the Paris Opera (Meditation, Liebeslieder Walzer, and Agon) and also staged Tzigane there, and earlier this year taught Tzigane to London’s Royal Ballet. Each summer, I also provide two educational programs for students – “Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell” (EBSF) for three weeks at the Kennedy Center, and a workshop at my Cedar Islands retreat in upstate New York. In just a few short weeks, I will be surrounded by many young dancers with stars in their eyes, just as I had at the School of American Ballet.

Suzanne Farrell as a student with Felia Doubrovska at the School of American Ballet

The return of Protégés makes me reflect on some of the similarities and differences between my training and some academies today. When I joined the School of American Ballet at 15, we didn’t have many resources beyond ourselves, and we didn’t have workshops or many chances to visit other companies. So all of us aspired to become a company member, in order to finally see and learn all the ballets we dreamed of dancing. In the meantime, we could only go home, close our eyes, and let our imaginations run wild.

Today, students have more access to visual content regarding a ballet, whether it’s a video, the Internet, or touring ballet companies. While it’s important for performances to be archived, learning ballets by these visual assets alone could make a dancer become comfortable with imitating, versus cultivating their own self. It is a great experience to learn a ballet from the original creator of the role, or even a ballet that’s never been done before, so that everything has to come from within. As a ballet student, it’s also enlightening to view other art forms – such as painting, sculpture, and even nature – in the world. Each summer, I do this with my EBSF students.

Some ballet schools provide their own academics in addition to ballet training. There were no dormitories while I was at the School of American Ballet, and I took separate courses at Professional Children’s School, which generously worked in tandem with my ballet schedule. At the end of the day, it was grounding to hop on the bus and go home across town, to my mother and sister and a life that seemed “normal.”

Suzanne Farrell as second solo girl in New York City Ballet’s Concerto Barocco, photo © 1962 Martha Swope

Which brings me to Concerto Barocco – a ballet I know from many different angles, because I’ve performed both of its solo roles at different times in my life. Originally created in 1941, the ballet was ornately costumed initially. In 1962, as a first-year corps member, I was thrown into the role of the second solo girl. I had never seen the ballet and now it was being revived with white leotards and skirts as costumes. Diana Adams was having knee trouble so she could not dance. Mr. Balanchine had me stand next to her and Pat Neary to determine whose height went best with Allegra Kent, who was replacing Diana in the first soloist’s role. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether being the shortest of the three (but still tall in my own right) was advantageous or not!

The second movement evokes a mood of peace and purity, while the two outer movements are fast and wonderfully energetic. The music is Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, and one fascinating element to Balanchine’s choreography is that each solo girl, at times, represents one of the two solo violins, while the eight corps girls are the remaining strings. Once while rehearsing the ballet, I glanced down in the pit and saw the two solo violinists playing very close together, almost as though one bow might collide with the other if the musicians didn’t remain completely in sync with one another. Balanchine’s choreography has that same sense of precision/precariousness and action/reaction tension to it.

Suzanne Farrell with Jacques d’Amboise in New York City Ballet’s Concerto Barocco, photo © 1963 by Fred Fehl.

A year later, in 1963, I made my debut as the first soloist – the adagio girl – in Concerto Barocco, this time partnered by Jacques d’Amboise. Learning the other role was an adventure, as I had to keep my body from instinctively moving to the counts I knew from the second soloist role. But in the end it was heaven to learn both parts, and that made it easier for me to stage the ballet later in life. I’ve taught it several times to other companies, including Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Serenade

To be performed by New York City Ballet:
Feb. 27, 28, & Mar. 1 evenings, & Mar. 2 matinee
Buy tickets

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Serenade

Serenade is the first ballet that Balanchine created for American dancers on American soil. It began, in 1934, as a lesson on technique with students from his School of American Ballet. This was a formative period in the building of Balanchine's company, so the students he had to work with led to many unique configurations of dancers. He also integrated unexpected events into the choreography, for instance, one girl arriving late for class and another dancer falling. Over time, the number of dancers changed and the costumes changed (the final version features long blue costumes against the blue background). At one point, Balanchine re-inserted a repeat of the music that he had originally removed. Then in the 1970s, he decided the three girls in the final movement should wear their hair down and loose. But the choreography remains pure and Serenade is considered a cornerstone of the Balanchine repertoire.

As a child, I owned a record of the music – Tchaikovsky's "Serenade in C for String Orchestra" – and once choreographed my own ballet to the music's "Russian Dance."

Serenade has four movements in all: Sonatina, Waltz, Russian Dance, and Elegy. I have fond memories of dancing the Dark Angel, one of three ballerinas in the final movement. One of the images that inspired Balanchine for this more "yearning" part of the ballet is a sculpture by Antonio Canova, in which Cupid brings his dying love Psyche back to life with a kiss.

This role, called the Dark Angel, was actually my very first solo. The company was on summer tour at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival in 1962 when Jillana sustained an injury. I had only 72 hours to learn the part and only one chance to perform it, on the last day of the festival. The schedule did not allow me a rehearsal with all the other 26 swirling bodies running in intricate patterns. Even though Mr. Balanchine would not be there to see me, I rehearsed it around the clock, working on it backward and forward, choosing places in the music to determine where I’d be at that exact moment.

Suzanne Farrell Scrapbook

After the performance, I wrote in my diary: "I was so nervous I could hardly put my make-up on... Once I got out there it was really heaven, even more so with Diana [Adams] dancing with me... At the end of my first entrance Diana said, 'Very good, Suzanne'." Click on the picture to see up close the Ravinia program I saved in my scrapbook. I wrote a few more notes in there and underlined all of the ballets I performed that week.

I've since staged Serenade for my own company and others, and thrill that a new generation of dancers will know this wonderful ballet. I love watching their eyes light up when they see for the first time how all of Balanchine's elaborate elements come together and take on life and meaning.

Agon

To be performed by New York City Ballet:
Feb. 29 & Mar. 2 evenings, & Mar. 1 matinee
Buy tickets

George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky

Balanchine commissioned Stravinsky to write the score for Agon, which he composed between 1953 and 1956. They worked very closely together, creating the choreography and the music in concert with one another. (I love this photo of the two of them – they’re so intense!)

In an interview I did with Bomb Magazine a few years ago, in the Fall 2003 issue, I reflected on their frequent collaborations: "Stravinsky was a great mentor and friend," I said, "and Balanchine wanted people to appreciate him. Some people had a problem with Agon. They thought the music sounded too harsh. The choreography doesn't try to modify or mollify the music - it justifies its harshness, it explains the music."

I went on to say, "Stravinsky and George loved discussing the difference between time and timing. Timing can be slowed down or speeded up as an image on a movie screen, but time and our life goes on - the universal clock. It will always be a 24-hour day. Stravinsky and George loved pointing out the importance of time." And that's why it was always exciting to perform their ballets - no one could break down time musically the way Stravinsky did - and no one could break it down in movement like Balanchine. Even the silences have timing and life in them.

Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell in Agon

Agon, which premiered in 1957, is a very athletic work, small but epic. The word is Greek for "contest," though there's no literal sense of competition in the ballet. There is a sense of contrast, however, among the fanfares played before each of the three sections. These interludes feature identical music, but Balanchine has phrased them differently. And then there's a conquest of various energies in the three main sections, first with two women and a man, then two men and a woman, and finally one woman and one man.

Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell in Agon

This pas de deux was originally made on Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell. I learned the role by watching Diana perform it and she coached me before I first danced it with Arthur. For ballets that I didn't originate myself, I’m grateful to have learned many of them this way, by observing their creators directly. It helped me absorb key musicality phrases in order to remain as true as possible to Balanchine's original vision. This is the way I continue to teach these ballets today.

I have staged the pas de deux and also the full ballet many times, including in St. Petersburg with the Kirov Ballet. The year was 1999, and I didn't want the world to go into the new millennium without the Russians having performed Agon - a labor of love between two of Russia's most brilliant native sons!

Symphony in C

To be performed by New York City Ballet:
Feb. 27, 28, & Mar. 1 evenings, & Mar. 2 matinee
Buy tickets

Symphony in C was on the program the first time I ever saw Balanchine’s company perform. I was 14 and NYCB toured to Bloomington, Indiana. After watching the program, it was clear to me that everyone in a Balanchine ballet dances – not just the soloists. I told myself that if I ever became a professional dancer, his company was where I wanted to be. I could go home at night invigorated from dancing my heart out, and not just as a piece of scenery.

Suzanne Farrell in 3rd movement from Symphony in C

This did come true. As a young corps member I was in the third movement of Symphony in C. (See the photo to the right – can you spot me?) One-and-a-half years later, as was often the case, we were on tour at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles when I was thrown into the lead female role in the second movement. I was ecstatic because I was finally going to dance in a tutu and tiara, the "crowning symbols" of a real ballerina! The performance went well, even the famously nerve-racking balance on pointe with one leg held high to the side.

Performed to Bizet's "Symphony No. 1 in C major," Balanchine first choreographed this work in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet, while serving as a guest ballet master there. Its original title was Le Palais de Cristal. Each movement was costumed in different colors, though by the time Balanchine re-staged it for City Ballet’s very first performance in 1948, everyone was costumed in the now-famous white. I once mentioned to Balanchine how fun it would be to go back to the colors, to see the fantastic kaleidoscope created by the dancers as they all return, one movement after the other, for the grand finale. But of course the white is just so stunning.

Suzanne Farrell in 2nd movement from Symphony in C

A few months after my first performance in the second movement, Balanchine changed one step in the choreography, with dramatic results. During rehearsal, while I was in the deep penché arabesque on pointe, holding both of Conrad Ludlow's hands, Balanchine asked if I would be able to bend further, and touch my head all the way down to my knee. It was a moment of spontaneity, and as unorthodox as it may have seemed for such a classical adagio, I honored his request.

Balanchine's eyes lit up with pleasure – perhaps he felt the image was now more true to the music, the ultimate extension of a conventional movement. Or perhaps since the company had recently moved into the larger expanse of the State Theater, Balanchine desired a bolder movement to fill out the generous space. Whatever his reasons, we kept it in performance. It is now the most famous sequence in the ballet, as ballerinas all over the world have been stretching their bodies vertically like this ever since.

La Bayadère

To be performed by the Kirov Ballet on Jan. 22–27:
Buy tickets

La Bayadère is more familiar to audiences today than it was in 1969, when I danced it with the National Ballet of Canada. Few companies performed it in North America then, and those that did typically excerpted the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene for their programs.

The ballet was created in 1877 by Marius Petipa at the Kirov, then known as the Imperial Ballet. This production at the Kennedy Center will feature Petipa's original choreography with the revisions made by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani in 1941. Set in India, La Bayadère follows the love story between Nikiya, a temple dancer, and Solor, a young warrior.

I never saw any version of La Bayadère before I danced the role of Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades scene. In my autobiography, I mentioned how strange it felt to go from all my years of Balanchine training to the National Ballet of Canada's more reserved English style, and their approach to Russian choreography. After the first performance, I released myself to Ludwig Minkus’s lovely music and ultimately found my own way. I particularly enjoyed performing Nikiya’s scarf dance. She and Solor dance holding opposite ends of a long scarf – a lovely image that symbolically ties them together.

I finally saw La Bayadère nearly 20 years after I performed it, during my first visit to the Kirov in 1988. Their production was lavish, colorful, and larger than life – I recall some of the women wearing parrots strapped to their wrists, and a huge elephant making a grand entrance in one scene. (These were not real animals, of course!). This earthiness heightens the contrast to the otherworldly atmosphere in the Kingdom of the Shades scene, which begins with the seemingly endless line of girls in white tutus.

The Sleeping Beauty

To be performed by American Ballet Theatre on Jan. 29–Feb. 3:
Buy tickets

Tchaikovsky was one of the few composers who wrote music specifically for ballet. I believe his Sleeping Beauty is one of the most glorious scores ever created – it makes me well up with emotion every time I hear it. Whenever I'm teaching and the pianist plays a passage, it's magical to let his music take over and move through you.

I never performed The Sleeping Beauty professionally, though as a child, when the Royal Ballet came to Cincinnati, I did portray one of four mice who pull Carabosse's wagon. The ballet also played a part in Balanchine’s childhood: he made his stage debut as Cupid at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Many years later, Balanchine created his own Garland Dance for the 1981 Tchaikovsky festival. Around this time, I remember warming up in the wings during an intermission when he revealed his hopes for staging a full version of The Sleeping Beauty. I was excited at the prospect of dancing the Rose Adagio, when in his often ambiguous way he said, "Though you know, Suzi, the real story of Sleeping Beauty begins after they’re married."

He didn't elaborate, but he went on to say, "I can’t do it just yet." Balanchine's intentions never came to fruition; he fell ill before he could put them in motion. But perhaps that's where he was headed – exploring what happens after happily ever after. I have investigated whether there are any classic Russian or French fairy tales that take the story beyond the marriage, but I haven't found anything.

Soon after our backstage conversation, Balanchine went on to create one of his last works, Davidsbündlertänze, a provocative piece performed to Robert Schumann's haunting piano solos. There is no direct correlation to the music, but I wonder if Davidsbündlertänze in some way was a stepping stone in Balanchine's fascinating creative process toward the real awakening of Sleeping Beauty…

Remembering Maurice Béjart

Maurice Béjart

On Thanksgiving Day, my good friend Maurice Béjart passed away in Lausanne, Switzerland. Earlier this year, on January 1st, he had turned 80.

I joined Béjart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century in 1970, then based in Brussels. He gave me a home following my initial departure from New York City Ballet. I had not been on a stage for over a year, so I was grateful for his invitation. We worked together for four years, and many of the things I learned with him I could never have learned anywhere else.

Béjart had a revered, very handsome company made up of dancers from all over the globe. It was a good time to be living in Europe. Béjart was choreographing vital works – many of them considered innovative and avant-garde at the time – and we had thrilling tours. His dance/theater pieces were fascinating. We often performed in huge arenas with the audience surrounding us on all sides. It was great training to learn how to “play” to them from every angle – this 360-degree awareness both enhanced and broadened how I danced. Béjart’s theatrical concepts have also helped inform my work as an artistic director today.

Suzanne Farrell and Jorge Donn in Romeo et Juliette

One of my favorite Béjart ballets is the first one he made on me, a pas de deux with a fast, darting variation called Bach Sonate. In creating the work, he strived to be true to classicism, but also true to his own style and to me.

His Romeo et Juliette premiered a few years prior to my arrival in Brussels, with music by Hector Berlioz. Béjart’s production was devoid of props, so it was always an interesting challenge to stab myself as Juliet without an actual sword, and make it look convincing to an audience. In tribute, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed the scène d’amour from Romeo et Juliette at the Kennedy Center this past June.

Suzanne Farrell and Jorge Donn

I have other Béjart favorites. For example, his compelling version of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was a major departure for me. When I first joined the company, I didn’t want to be in a ballet unless I was in pointe shoes, because that’s how I always danced. The Rite of Spring was in ballet shoes, so I initially resisted performing it. But eventually I gave in, because I knew it was an amazing work, universally considered one of Béjart’s greatest triumphs. In Berlin 1981, there was a Stravinsky celebration and a small group from City Ballet was invited to perform. Balanchine and I were at a press conference and he was asked why he never choreographed to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – they were such good friends and collaborators. Balanchine replied, "I don’t feel that the music needs a physical realization. Anyway, there is already a very, very good Rite of Spring and it’s by Maurice Béjart."

Suzanne Farrell as The Young Girl in Rose, in 'Nijinsky, Clown of God'

For Nijinsky, Clown of God, I portrayed several incarnations of Nijinsky's wife Romola, culminating in a long pas de deux with five men representing Nijinsky's greatest roles: Petrouchka, Afternoon of a Faun, Schéhérazade, Le Spectre de la Rose, and the dancer himself. We brought the ballet to Paris, where it was a huge success. We were treated like rock stars there – it was surreal to see life-size cutouts of me on taxis driving along the Champs-Élysées! At this time, I became the L’Air du Temps girl for Nina Ricci perfume ads wearing a gown from this ballet. Life was good.

In 1974, I departed Brussels to return to Balanchine's company, but I remained close to Béjart throughout the years. Our connection led me into a rather novel situation soon after I returned to the States: Ballet of the Twentieth Century toured to New York in 1976, and I found myself performing double-duty for a week – dancing with Balanchine one night, and Béjart the next. Both were very gracious to let me do this!

Béjart traveled to the U.S. less as the years went on. As of this past year, he hadn’t been abroad in quite some time; this was one of the reasons I had wanted to stage The Rite of Spring this past June. Initially, the ballet was on my company's programs, but once Béjart's health prohibited him from traveling at all, our plans had to change. I last saw him in Lausanne for his 80th birthday celebration. The event included a gala dinner and a moving retrospective of his work. It was an honor to attend.

Suzanne Farrell with Maurice Béjart

Béjart was a kind human being, and he could be very funny. He was extremely well read, spoke several languages, wrote the text for most of his theater/ballets, and was knowledgeable and curious about many things. I’m happy that I had those years with him. The day after his passing, I dedicated that Friday’s performance of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet to the memory of my dear friend. I will miss him.

Backstage at The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

I’ve put together a slideshow of photos taken backstage during my company’s performances over Thanksgiving week in the Opera House. I hope you enjoy them.

This content requires Macromedia Flash Player version 6 or higher. Get Flash

On Bugaku

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on both Program A and Program B, Nov. 20–25
Buy tickets

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s Natalia Magnicaballi and Jared Redick, photo by Carol PrattBugaku (pronounced "boo-GAH-koo") is the term for Japanese court music. In 1963, it was a bold step for Balanchine to take something so steeped in ancient culture and transpose it to Western ballet. The intent was not to imitate traditional Japanese manners and rituals, but to respect their spirit and decorum.

In the late 1950s, before I joined the company, New York City Ballet had traveled to Japan, and their performances had been a tremendous success. Over the next few years, Balanchine invited some of the Japanese musicians and dancers he had seen to perform on his programs in the United States. Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein soon commissioned Toshiro Mayuzumi, a popular and adventurous Japanese composer, to create a ballet score reflecting the music of Japan's Imperial Court, but using Western instrumentation. (Interestingly, Mayuzumi was a pupil of Iannis Xenakis, the composer who inspired Balanchine's Pithoprakta. This ballet is also part of my company's November engagement at the Kennedy Center.)

The end result was Balanchine's Bugaku, which calls for a principal couple and an ensemble of 4 women and 4 men. The ballet was originally made on Allegra Kent and Eddie Villella. When I performed it, beginning later in the 1960s, I was partnered by Arthur Mitchell and sometimes Eddie Villella.

Balanchine always said that the minute you place a man and a woman on stage, there’s already a story. So you don’t have to specifically tell the audience what to see. Yet critics were quick to label the first part of Bugaku as a formalized courtship, and the second part a ceremonial wedding ritual. Balanchine referred to this pas de deux as "a dance of discovery."

True to Balanchine, the movement is born from the music. Mayuzumi's score features a wealth of violin glissando, sliding up and down along the strings, as if extending the instrument beyond its means. This tautness in the music fits perfectly with the tension in the pas de deux. Once the ensemble removes the couple's robes, their duet becomes more intricate, intertwined, and almost slow-motion in places. The man seems to mold and shape his female partner into physical positions of the most extreme nature.

The set was conceived by David Hays, the designer for several of Balanchine's ballets including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Liebeslieder Walzer. The design echoes many traditional theatrical presentations in Japan. When I danced Bugaku, I remember that the floor's patterned green tapestry stained my toe shoes. I’d have to replace them for every new performance. Bugaku features an abundance of pale makeup, and our wigs at the time were stiff, lacquered horsehair layered with miniature umbrellas and cherry blossoms. Needless to say, this ballet required a long preparation time.

For my company's premiere performances of Bugaku, we will be using the costumes designed by Karinska. I think Karinska's inspiration to model the women's skirts after lotus blossoms was particularly clever and beautiful.

Our performances of Bugaku are a nice tie-in to the Kennedy Center's upcoming festival JAPAN! culture + hyperculture. It's an exciting "sneak peek" of what the Center has in store for audiences next February.

On Fourth Movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on "Program B":
Friday, Nov. 23 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (mat.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (eve.)
Buy tickets

Suzanne Farrell in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, photo by Fred FehlBrahms-Schoenberg Quartet is performed to Arnold Schoenberg's orchestration of Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1. Each of the music's four movements is matched to a different movement in Balanchine’s ballet. Much like Diamonds, Rubies, and Emeralds from Balanchine's Jewels, the movements could be performed independently from the others. They each have a separate beginning, middle, and end, and their only link is the music.

Balanchine liked Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1, but he tended to avoid choreographing to chamber works because of their length. According to my research, Robert Craft, a close friend to Stravinsky, informed Balanchine that Schoenberg had created an orchestration of the quartet in the late 1930s, employing a huge orchestra. He listened to a recording and loved it, leading to the premiere of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet on April 12, 1966.

The Fourth Movement, which Balanchine originally made on me and Jacques d'Amboise and an ensemble of eight other couples, is also called the "Rondo alla Zingarese." It evokes a specific mood of invigorating gypsy vitality. From its first moments – where the lead couple swiftly enters – it's a wild display of flamboyant, yet elegant fun.

The ballet incorporates seductive jauntiness, a great deal of spinning turns, and silent repartee. The woman is extremely fiery – fiercely independent, and ready to meet her partner on equal terms.

Balanchine's Tzigane also evokes the geographic locale of Hungary and gypsies, but otherwise the two ballets are completely different. Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is not the earthy gypsies of Carmen – they're not bandits or in the mountains around the campfire. Rather, the ballet suggests a more aristocratic lifestyle near the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And Brahms's music is very grand, as opposed to Ravel's plaintive violin in Tzigane.

I'm looking forward to my company's premiere of the Fourth Movement. Staging the entirety of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is an elaborate undertaking – a dance extravaganza employing 55 dancers. I hope for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet to perform all four movements in the future.

On Pas Classique Espagnol

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on “Program A”:
Tuesday, Nov. 20 (eve.) / Wednesday, Nov. 21 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (eve.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (mat.)
Buy tickets

In the 1970s, Balanchine reworked Act I of his full-length Don Quixote, the ballet he originally made on me in 1965 and bequeathed to me. For example, in addition to my role as the Don’s beloved Dulcinea, Balanchine inserted an extra solo for me as a gypsy woman for a time. Similarly, Balanchine added this 15-minute divertissement to the first act of Don Quixote to supply it with more dancing.

With its own pas de deux, ensemble variations, and finale, Pas Classique Espagnol clearly works as an independent ballet. I did not include it in my re-staging of Don Quixote for my company in 2005, so this is the first time that most audiences will have seen it.

To bring this lovely divertissement back to the stage, I consulted the black-and-white video with tiny images from the 1970s. There isn’t any sound, so I sat down with Ron Matson, my company’s Music Director, and we searched for the music. “This looks like a waltz,” I said, “and this looks like a mazurka.” Eventually he electronically recreated the music. But Nikolas Nabokov’s score is tricky – he frequently accents the second beat in a measure, so we had to be careful not to plot that as the first beat.

Our re-constructed music for Pas Classique Espagnol is unmistakably Nabokov. Even though Dulcinea never appears in the divertissement, the music includes themes reflective of her character, because everything the Don sees during his journey refers back to his vision of her.

Our re-imagined costumes will be colorful, with a hint of Spanish flavor. Here are some sketches of the costumes by Holly Hynes, our costume designer. (Click on them to see a close-up.) Audiences will actually take quite the journey on our “Program A” – we’ll venture from Japan (Bugaku) to Spain (Pas Classique Espagnol) to the Elysian Fields (Chaconne)!

Costume sketch #1 for Pas Classique Espagnol Costume sketch #2 for Pas Classique Espagnol

On Ballade

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on "Program B":
Friday, Nov. 23 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (mat.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (eve.)
Buy tickets

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s Bonnie Pickard and Matthew Prescott in Ballade, photo by Carol Pratt

Ballade is one of Balanchine's rarely performed ballets. I never danced the ballet, but I always thought it was beautiful. Balanchine made this extended pas de deux on Merrill Ashley, who performed the premiere in 1980 with Ib Andersen. Throughout the ballet, the central couple appears and disappears, accompanied at times by a corps of 10 women. The choreography is set to "Ballade for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19," a late 19th-century work by French composer Gabriel Fauré.

The ballet was originally costumed in tulle and very French – the dancers wore black ribbons around their necks, as they did in the early days of the French ballets. Ballade was later re-costumed in chiffon, which I think makes the romance in the movement more visible.

Many people will recognize Fauré's music. The mood of the ballet is reflective, like a memory. In this way, people may draw a parallel between Ballade and Balanchine's Meditation, though the two are very different ballets – completely separate worlds, sensibilities, and people. Still, I think it will be interesting for audiences to experience them both on the same program.

On Pithoprakta

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on “Program B”:
Friday, Nov. 23 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (mat.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (eve.)
Buy tickets

Balanchine made Pithoprakta on me and Arthur Mitchell in 1968. The ballet also calls for 7 women and 5 men. Until now, no one else has ever performed it. It had always been paired with Balanchine’s ensemble ballet Metastaseis, because both are set to music created in the 1950s by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis.

Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell in Pithoprakta, photo by Martha Swope

Pithoprakta was popular when it premiered. The music and choreography were very radical and innovative at the time. It was the era of going to the moon; a complete departure from what Balanchine had done before, and from what other choreographers were doing in ballet. The title is Greek for “action by probabilities” – Xenakis’s music was frequently based on mathematical and scientific formulas. His score calls for more than 50 instruments to each play something different, from musical sounds to sound effects.

Suzanne Farrell in Pithoprakta, photo by Fred Fehl

One day, Balanchine archived Pithoprakta on film, but Arthur Mitchell couldn’t be there. So I had to perform the ballet, including the pas de deux, without him. This is the same – and only – film that exists to re-construct the ballet for my company now. To re-insert Arthur’s role, I’ve had to work with an unknown quantity. In some places, I remember he danced my mirror opposite, or we performed back-to-back. But in other places, I’m re-creating his choreography via a process of elimination. Whenever there’s a phrase of music where nothing seems to be happening, I say to myself, “Aha! That must be where Arthur dances!”

The original costuming was eclectic, much like the dance itself. I wore white tights and a fringed bikini with little pink rhinestones on the end of the tassels. Arthur Mitchell was dressed in shimmering gold pants, and the ensemble wore black practice clothes. For my company’s premiere of the work, we’ve designed new costumes – there’s still some gold in there, and white. And though the ballet did not originally feature a set, I have the idea to reflect the music’s mathematical and scientific characteristics.

On Chaconne

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on:
Tuesday, Nov. 20 (eve.) / Wednesday, Nov. 21 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (eve.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (mat.)
Buy tickets

The version of Chaconne in my company's repertoire is the choreography Balanchine originally created for the dance sequence in the Hamburg Opera's 1963 production of Orpheus and Eurydice. (This was around the same time he made his first ballet on me, Meditation.) I first learned and performed Chaconne in 1976, the year Balanchine added it as an independent ballet to his repertoire, though this version includes an additional pas de deux. Balanchine may have been inspired by the music in Orpheus and Eurydice, by the 18th-century German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, but there is no connection to the opera's characters or plot. Chaconne is pure dance - those who are familiar with the opera, however, will enjoy seeing another art form set to the music.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in “Chaconne”

By definition, a chaconne is a form of music in ¾ time signature. The exact music he formatted for the ballet does not exist in the opera, or in any recording. He was such the musician that he tied together various pieces from the opera's score to create something uniquely his own.

The version of Chaconne that The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will be performing follows Balanchine's adaptation for television. It begins with the additional pas de deux, followed by nine young women in translucent gowns and long, flowing hair. The couple meets again for a more formal pas de deux, followed by virtuoso solos for the man and the woman. The ensemble enters for the finale danced to a chaconne, in which the couple also celebrates.

Balanchine intended for the first and second halves of Chaconne to be very different from each other. The opening of the ballet evokes the timeless, ethereal mood of Elysium, or the afterlife - while in the second pas de deux, the tone is more courtly, formal, and stylized.

When Chaconne premiered, people were uncertain regarding its two distinct halves, with no story or immediately observable similarities to link them. But the absence of a narrative thread doesn't mean there's an absence of drama. I never questioned anything Balanchine did when he was putting together a ballet, because it was always answered by the end of the choreography. I think Chaconne shows Balanchine juxtaposing people's private lives with their public personas, exploring how they might behave in each of those worlds.

Balanchine created these often-dubbed "plotless" ballets like Chaconne for a reason. People would ask him, "What am I supposed to look at when I come to the ballet? What should I pay attention to?" I believe Balanchine created works where people could appreciate movement for its own sake. It's not necessary to see a story if you don't want to - just come and enjoy the dance. Of course, Balanchine also created story ballets like Don Quixote, giving audiences even more choices.

As far as the designs for Chaconne, the costumes were primarily blue and white. The stage version does not include scenery, though Balanchine did agree to some rather ornate backdrops - complete with clouds and abstract-looking topiary sculptures - for the Chaconne filmed in 1978, which is now on DVD.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet presented its premiere of Chaconne in 2002; the following year, we featured the first pas de deux in a program called "The Balanchine Couple," which I scripted and narrated. This fall, Chaconne will be the cornerstone of a special artistic partnership between The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Cincinnati Ballet. I think it's fitting that my company's first partnership of this nature will take place in my hometown. My idea for the partnership brings many things full circle for me, as well as for Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director, Victoria Morgan. "Suzanne Farrell is a hero of mine," she said in a press release earlier this year. "When I was dancing, I imagined the freedom of expression and innate musicality that she exuded every moment on stage, influencing my own expression on stage."

Cincinnati Ballet will first host The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for a three-week residency, culminating in a joint performance of Chaconne on November 9 and 10. In return, select members of Cincinnati Ballet will perform in Chaconne during The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's engagement at the Kennedy Center November 20-25.

I look forward to our collaboration.

On Meditation

To be performed by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on:
Friday, Nov. 23 (eve.) / Saturday, Nov. 24 (mat.) / Sunday, Nov. 25 (eve.)
Buy tickets

Meditation was the first ballet that Balanchine made on me, and it was the first ballet to which he gave me ownership. A pas de deux of approximately 8 minutes, the work is performed to Tchaikovsky's music of the same name for violin and piano, and orchestrated by Glazounov. Meditation premiered in December 1963 at the New York City Center of Music and Drama; my partner was Jacques d'Amboise. He and I were both tall, so Balanchine saw us as a good match.

Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d’Amboise in “Meditation”

At the time Balanchine was creating Meditation in New York, he was also working on the dance sequence in Orpheus and Eurydice for the Hamburg Opera. Based on the Greek myth, the opera follows Orpheus as he attempts to bring his wife back from the underworld, only to lose her again. Perhaps this theme of "impossible love" inspired Balanchine when he started Meditation. It certainly proved to people that Balanchine was not just an "abstract" or "neo-classical" choreographer, as he had been so often labeled. He could also create something founded on pure emotion.

I first became aware that Balanchine had me in mind for a ballet when we were on tour in Russia, in 1962. I was nursing an injured knee after adjusting to all the steeply raked stages in Europe, so I was unable to dance and thoroughly frustrated. But when we stopped to perform in Tbilisi - Balanchine's home town in Georgia - he calmed me. As I recorded in my diary: "The Nutcracker is not so important. Don't dance," Balanchine said. "Next season, though, you will see…" He pointed his index finger to me, and then upward. I wasn't really sure what that meant, but by the fall of 1963, we were back in the studio and I was to find out.

At the time, I was 18, and had not yet been in love. So creating a pas de deux around the concept of romance was the furthest thing from my mind. Yet it evolved into an evocation of passion, love, and loss. A man, kneeling, his head in his hands, begins and ends the ballet alone. In between, he is visited by a young girl in a white, translucent gown and long, flowing hair. (This was the beginning of a career of loose hair for me, one of Balanchine's signature breaks from tradition.) She invites him into a duet, tender at first, but increasingly passionate and reckless as the dance continues. Many people have filled in their own story here, and I eventually discovered mine. But I don't believe you need to explain everything in a ballet. A sense of mystery can be very powerful. The more you reveal to an audience, the more mysterious you become. The less you reveal, the less interesting you are. However, if you work at being mysterious, it just comes across as disingenuous.

Tchaikovsky's violin gives Meditation a certain Russian sensibility. I remember Jacques d'Amboise, after a performance once, innocently suggested that Balanchine created Meditation because "every Russian likes to suffer." But Balanchine – who was generally a happy person – immediately diffused this maudlin notion. "No!" he said. "That's not true! Who wants to suffer? Suffering comes into our lives whether we like it or not!" I believe Balanchine choreographed life on stage. His ballets reflect and celebrate life and love in all its poignancy.

Balanchine gave Meditation to me saying he didn't want anyone else to dance it, and I was loyal to his wishes for more than 35 years after it premiered. (At one time, Mikhail Baryshnikov asked to perform it - of course he understood it was not possible, once I explained Balanchine's request.) But when I began teaching, a few years after Balanchine passed away, I thought, what good is a ballet if it's never seen? Leaving these works "in the vault" wasn't preserving them - it was destroying them. So I decided to teach Meditation to a new generation.

In 2003, forty years after the ballet's world premiere, audiences saw The Suzanne Farrell Ballet perform Meditation for the first time - and I was seeing it for the first time as well. We are the only company in the world to perform it.

Photos and more from my summer education programs

For three weeks in August, I had the joy of working with 27 eager and talented young adults as part of my annual Kennedy Center summer program called “Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell” (EBSF for short). Since 1993, I’ve been leading and nurturing promising U.S. and international students ages 14 to 18 in this intensive residency, which focuses on ballet technique and performance dynamics, as well as offering cultural exploration around D.C.

Our three weeks together – many of those hours spent deep in the Kennedy Center’s rehearsal catacombs – culminated in a performance of my choreography in the Family Theater on August 17. I’m always excited to give the students this opportunity to showcase their efforts. The final performance is typically attended by parents, friends, and teachers, and followed by a very enjoyable reception. Here I’ve put together a slideshow of photos taken during this year’s classes and rehearsals:

This content requires Macromedia Flash Player version 6 or higher. Get Flash

EBSF is not the only summer program I lead for aspiring dancers. Every year at my Cedar Islands retreat in Upstate New York, I spend a working vacation with approximately 10 young girls for two weeks. Between EBSF and Cedar Islands, I’m especially grateful that I can offer the kind of individual attention that is sometimes difficult to find in other top training programs. (Some of them have to accommodate 200 or more students at a time!)

I’ve gathered a couple of letters written to me by former students. I love hearing from them – what they remember from our time together, and what intriguing things they’re up to now. Click on these images to read three of my favorites:

Malea's letter Jenny's letterZara's letter

I also seek out new generations of talent through my summer sessions - whether it's recruiting students for children's roles in ballets like Balanchine's Mozartiana, or considering them for a more permanent role in my company. Early next year, I'll be holding auditions for my 2008 summer programs, so I welcome you to read more about EBSF and the application process. You can also watch a video of me and some of my former students talking about our experiences together.

A special invitation to 2 free events in September

EBSF is just one example of how the Kennedy Center is as committed to arts education and preservation as it is to the performances themselves. In September, two free events I'm involved in are further testament to the Center's mission: a Millennium Stage world-premiere film screening of Balanchine's Don Quixote in 1965, and preview performances by The Suzanne Farrell Ballet during the Open House Arts Festival. I invite you to join me for both of them.

World-Premiere Film Screening Of Balanchine's Don Quixote

Wednesday, September 5 at 6 p.m. in the Terrace Theater

George Balanchine and Suzanne Farrell in Don Quixote

After my company's re-staging of Balanchine's Don Quixote in 2005, The New York Public Library at Lincoln Center approached me with their interest in digitally re-mastering and restoring a black-and-white film that had been made of the ballet's world premiere 40 years earlier. The gala benefit performance, which took place on May 27, 1965, featured Balanchine as Cervantes's Don in 16th-century Spain, and me as his Dulcinea. Balanchine's inspiration for the ballet follows their love story as depicted in Cervantes's novel. In one particular passage that has always moved me, the Don says he will glorify Dulcinea as "the lady of his thoughts, for the knight-errant without a ladylove was a tree without leaves or fruit, a body without a soul."

Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine's Don Quixote

Among the many circumstances that made this gala performance special, it marked Balanchine's first time on stage since performing in a televised production of The Nutcracker seven years earlier. And at age 61, portraying the Don was no small feat. Though the role was primarily an acting role, not a dancing one, it still required a lot of physical acumen - the Don battles, falls, kneels, and is tormented throughout the ballet as he attempts to hold nobly to his dreams. I was 19 at the ballet's premiere, and as much as the gala was an historical event, if Balanchine was aware it was being recorded at the time, I was unaware until years later. Other New York City Ballet staff took initiative to commit the performance to celluloid.

I had used a VHS copy of the film to re-stage the ballet in 2005, since it had been 25 years since the last performance. I had struggled with more than a few dark, grainy patches in the video as I pieced together Balanchine's original choreography, so I was excited about the idea of restoring it. However, I wanted to be hands-on involved in the re-mastering, primarily because the music and movement were out of sync throughout the original recording. In some instances, the music can't even be heard! I certainly didn't want an archival record created that wasn't true to the actual performance – and since Balanchine had made the ballet on me, and had bequeathed it to me, it was of paramount importance for me to be as true as possible.

Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine's Don Quixote

Now that I've seen the final cut, I know the restoration has enhanced the film immensely, making it a much richer viewing experience. Filmed using two cameras, the original video recorded all three acts of the full-evening ballet, which runs approximately two hours. Now the wide angle shots capture the atmospheric, moody mis-en-scène with more vivid detail of background pantomime and surrounding "dance-drama" – while the close-up shots express more of the characters' emotional nuance. Don Quixote is one of Balanchine's most elaborate works, with seven scene changes, a 40-foot giant wielding a sword, a 30-foot rotating windmill, a miniature puppet theater, firecrackers, and a cast of seemingly thousands, including a horse, a donkey, and children. So the clarity added to these elements is all the more vital.

Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine's Don Quixote

Perhaps one of the most unexpected outcomes of the restoration process is that it has helped bring back into focus one of the ballet's main themes: the dark, deceitful nature of mankind. At its core, Don Quixote is a philosophical tale of life, death, and love. The Don is a man of chivalry living in a cynical world. For example, there's a sequence in the ballet where court people put on commedia dell'arte masks with huge Cyrano de Bergerac noses and begin to dance with the Don, pushing and taunting him until he is bruised, beaten, and alone. In the original film, this intentionally darkly lit scene is just that - dark. In the re-mastered version, you can now see the full detail of the dance, yet the darkness remains and takes on its own meaning. It practically becomes a character itself.

At the Kennedy Center on September 5, I'll briefly introduce the film alongside Michelle Potter, from The New York Public Library, who has worked with me throughout this restoration project. I'll then head to New York City on September 19 for a second screening at Lincoln Center. I'm looking forward to the journey.

Preview Performances By The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

Saturday, September 8 - three performances throughout the afternoon in the Family Theater

Filled with dozens of free performances, the Kennedy Center’s annual Open House Arts Festival is a full day of family fun – and this year, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will be a part of the festivities. Our participation is part of my ongoing commitment to give back to ballet audiences, and to the art form that has enabled me to have such an extraordinary life.

For parents whose children begin to express interest in ballet and dance, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to get them more involved, and where to go to start. Finding quality time and the financial resources for regularly sharing the arts with your family can also be challenging.

The Open House Arts Festival is a great opportunity for parents and children to spend the day together fully immersed in the arts. And you can speak directly with members of our Education staff about ways to get children more involved in ballet at the Kennedy Center and beyond.

At the festival, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will perform a program featuring excerpts from three works by Balanchine: Chaconne, Bugaku, and Pas Classique Espagnol. Since the full versions of all three of these works will be featured in my company's November performances in the Opera House, I'll be sharing more stories about each of them in future editions of my Notes from the Ballet.

I hope you'll join us in the Family Theater on September 8. In the meantime, enjoy this free "sneak peek" at our performances to come.