The Kennedy Center

Suzanne Farrell's Notes from the Ballet Archive

2010 - 2011

Ballet Nacional de Cuba

May 31-June 5

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Immediately following Memorial Day weekend, Ballet Nacional de Cuba returns to the Kennedy Center for the first time in a decade to perform two programs: an evening of highlights from favorite ballets called The Magic of Dance, and Artistic Director Alicia Alonso's version of Don Quixote. Alicia Alonso has been leading the company since founding it in 1948, and I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice.

The second time our paths crossed was at a gala event in Brussels, in the early 1970s, when I was performing with Maurice Béjart's company. But the first time I met her, in 1955, just also happens to be the first time I ever saw (and actually performed with) a professional ballet company!

I was a child and Ballet Russe was touring to Cincinnati's Music Hall. Alicia Alonso was traveling as a guest artist with the company, portraying the Sugar Plum Fairy in their production of The Nutcracker. Through a recommendation by my ballet teacher at Cincinnati's Conservatory of Music, I was asked to play a young Clara in the ballet's second act.

My role was little more than a walk-on—I only needed to greet the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier (played by Igor Youskevitch) when they arrived on stage in a wheeled boat, and then sit quietly on a little red velvet bench and applaud after each divertissement. But I was in heaven from the moment the curtain rose, and I relished the whole experience by clapping differently each time, truly enjoying my sense of "character development" until all the dancers began to take their bows at the end of the ballet.

Not knowing what to do next, I decided also to curtsy, but that seemed to ruffle the feathers of a couple of other dancers on stage. My embarrassment at their reaction was fleeting, however, since backstage, I was able to ask Alicia Alonso for her autograph.

Suzanne Farrell as Clara in 'The Nutcracker' (Uncredited)

She was still in her tutu and makeup, sitting on an orange ballet touring trunk and holding a silk stage lily. She graciously sat me down to tell me the story of Giselle—one of the roles she's most famous for dancing—while my mother excitedly snapped photographs. In fact, here I am in the photo costumed as Clara, with my hair pulled back in a ribbon and wearing a white Empire-waist dress, blue sash, ruffled pantaloons, and the little white ballet slippers I had brought with me for the performance.

That entire evening was such a delight, made all the more memorable by Alicia Alonso's warmth and willingness to share a teachable moment with me, her "Cincinnati Clara." She's a lovely inspiration, and I hope you enjoy her company's long-overdue Washington engagement from May and June.

The Royal Danish Ballet

June 7-12

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Though Denmark is relatively small, the country has an expansive history when it comes to ballet, harkening back to the mid-18th century, when The Royal Danish Ballet was founded. For its first engagement at the Kennedy Center since 2004, the company will bring two popular full-evening works by August Bournonville, who reigned as its Ballet Master from 1830 to 1877. One of those ballets will be Napoli, re-staged by current Artistic Director Nikolaj Hübbe, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet.

First performed in 1842 at The Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Napoli follows the fairy tale story of a beautiful Italian girl named Teresina, who falls for Gennaro, a poor fisherman, despite her mother's objections. Their love is further complicated by a terrible storm and the dark magic of Golfo, a demon of the sea who rules the "Blue Grotto."

Bournonville was the ballet's first Gennaro, and I found the following passage about his work—from The Dictionary of Modern Ballet, a book from my youth—to be quite charming:

"Napoli is a firm favorite in the Copenhagen repertoire, chosen for many festive occasions and conducted occasionally in the 1950s by the King [of Denmark], who always sends champagne to the dancers… Traditionally, all children from the Danish Ballet School make their first appearance on the bridge in the last act of Napoli, waving flags and cheering on the Tarantella dancers."

This excerpt shows how much Napoli is such a celebrated part of Denmark's heritage, even compelling royalty to brandish a baton at a performance! And I love the "rite of passage" of the bridge. Be on the lookout for fresh, eager faces there whenever you see the ballet. Whether they're Danish youngsters, local students, or otherwise, perhaps you'll catch a glimpse of one of tomorrow's brightest stars.

Once in the 1970s, I performed the Tarantella in Copenhagen, as a guest artist in a gala. Peter Martins and I performed the pas de deux from Balanchine's Diamonds before joining the other Danish dancers on the program for some steps from Napoli's grand finale. It's a very joyous ending, featuring some fun and innocent flirting with a scarf, and plenty of wedding happiness.

The only other time I performed Bournonville's choreography was during New York City Ballet's 1976–77 season, when I was cast in his famous "Flower Festival" pas de deux. As I write in my autobiography, Holding on to the Air:

"Balanchine had admired the choreography of the great 19th-century Danish ballet master August Bournonville all his life, and now he suggested to Stanley Williams, the distinguished Danish teacher at the School of American Ballet, that he stage a set of divertissements and pas de deux from Bournonville's surviving repertoire… For a few hectic weeks, the company became a mini-Royal Danish Ballet, which was not so surprising if one considered just how much of Bournonville's tight, fast footwork, smooth jumps, and easy grace were also an integral part of Balanchine's contemporary work."

I hope you'll join The Royal Danish Ballet for their performances, which close out the Kennedy Center's 2010-2011 ballet season. Next season won't begin until October, when The Suzanne Farrell Ballet marks its 10th anniversary season with two exciting programs. Until then, have a wonderful summer!

New York City Ballet

April 5-10, 2011

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On Balanchine's Square Dance

By now, you've probably read about the Kennedy Center's upcoming 2011-2012 ballet season. I'm especially looking forward to the 10th anniversary celebration of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in October, which will feature my company's premiere of Balanchine's Diamonds, originally made on me in 1967 as part of his full-evening Jewels.

In the meantime, there are still many exciting ballet events remaining in the Kennedy Center's current season. For New York City Ballet's performances April 5-10, the company will present three programs of Balanchine ballets. Among these striking works is Square Dance. Balanchine premiered Square Dance in November 1957, and in doing so, united the traditions of classical ballet and American folk dance on the same stage. When I joined his company a few years later, I had never seen anything like this charming ballet before.

New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette in Square Dance (Paul Kolnik)

Balanchine was fond of American Western culture; he traveled many times out West and was always wearing cowboy shirts and string ties. He also loved Westerns at the movies and on television. So it comes as no surprise that he sought to explore the patterns and formations of American square dancing in a uniquely crafted ballet for his company.

In traditional square dancing, a "call" refers to the name of a specific dance movement – and in its original 1957 format, Square Dance featured an on-stage caller who shouted out rhythmic phrases and cues, as if guiding the dancers into various steps and partnering. Elisha C. Keeler, one of the famous square dance callers of his day, was frequently showcased in this role.

Accompanied by the musicians on stage, and donned in full Western regalia, cowboy hat and all, Elisha would call out such cues as "chase the rabbit, chase the squirrel, then go promenade your girl" and "whickety-whack, there goes Pat" just as ballerina Patricia Wilde took the spotlight. Every couple of measures had a different description like this.

The work eventually fell out of repertoire, but Balanchine revived it in 1976. His updated version removed the caller, moved the musicians to the orchestra, and added an elegant solo variation for the principal male. It's just as lively and beautiful of a ballet as its predecessor. Over the years, various companies have re-instated the caller for their performances of the ballet.

The rest of Square Dance remained the same: the lovely string music of Vivaldi and Corelli, the dynamic square-based configurations, the central pas de deux, and all the speed and quick pacing of the original choreography. From the beginning, the ballet has always been costumed in white, black, gray, and blue leotards and skirts, as opposed to pinafore dresses and decorative suits – another example of how Balanchine's vision was inspired by American square dance but not a literal translation.

More than 50 years after its premiere, it's still so easy to get caught up in the music, formations, and joyous energy of this wonderful ballet.

For my previous Notes about the other works on the programs, click on these links: Duo Concertant, Monumentum pro Gesualdo / Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Agon, Apollo, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Symphony in Three Movements, The Four Temperaments, Episodes, and Concerto Barocco.

American Ballet Theatre

January 18 - 23, 2011

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In January, the Kennedy Center will commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's Inauguration with a special tribute concert and other events. As part of that celebration, American Ballet Theatre has lined up a sampling of Kennedy family favorites for one of two programs they'll be performing. (The other is a company premiere by Alexei Ratmansky, called The Bright Stream.) Among ABT's mixed repertory offering are two ballets by George Balanchine - Theme and Variations and Duo Concertant - as well as Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free and Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas.

On My Memories of the Kennedys

1962 Inaugural Anniversary Salute. Happy Anniversery Mr. President (John F. Kennedy)

When Kennedy first took office in January 1961, I had just begun my training at Balanchine's School of American Ballet. Indeed, that year was one of promise and potential on many different levels. While I unfortunately never got the opportunity to meet our 35th President or Jacqueline Kennedy, I did get the chance to perform for them a year later.

At the beginning of 1962, Balanchine's company was invited to perform at the Armory in Washington, D.C., as part of a gala event marking Kennedy's first full year in the White House. By that point, I had become a member of the corps and so we all flew down from New York to dance a patriotic spectacle: the pas de deux and finale from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes. It was such an exciting opportunity for us - I remember the enormous hall was filled with a palpable energy, plenty of dignitaries, and lots of balloons, and neither the freezing weather nor our incredibly small dressing room could dampen anyone's spirits. Click on the image here for a close-up view of the program I saved from the event. (Also part of that evening's festivities: Dame Shirley Bassey, Carol Burnett, and Gene Kelly!)

A couple of years later, a very young Caroline Kennedy visited Balanchine's company to take part in a special ballet class. Maria Tallchief was offering instruction to her daughter, Elise Paschen, in a small studio at the State Theater in Lincoln Center, and Caroline Kennedy was invited to participate. The whole company was abuzz at this development, and one of my older sisters, Beverly, a child prodigy pianist and Manhattan School of Music graduate, was even asked to play piano for the class. It's still lovely to think of the Kennedys instilling a love of the arts in their daughter at such a young age.

On Duo Concertant

Duo Concertant originally premiered as part of Balanchine's 1972 Stravinsky Festival, staged the year following the composer's passing and two years before I returned to Balanchine's company. I didn't begin performing the ballet until a decade after its premiere, first with Peter Martins (who originated the male role) and later, briefly, with Sean Lavery. I've since added it to my own company's repertoire.

The ballet is comprised of five movements. When the curtain rises, a male and female dancer share the stage with two musicians and their instruments, a piano and violin. In simple practice clothes, they listen to the music from behind the piano. They're soon inspired to dance together - first fast, often mirroring each other, and then slow, before they break into individual variations. For the final movement, the stage is darkened except for a pool of light, in which hands and faces are momentarily united before they separate again. Through this interplay of illumination and shadow, piano and violin, a hint of a love story unfolds.

I enjoy Duo Concertant for its simple twists on the ballet format - not the least, of course, being the opening scene where there's no dancing, only music. The focus is on Stravinsky's provocative score, and the anticipation of what will happen next. When I teach the ballet, I stress to dancers they must react as if they're hearing the music for the first time, so their responses must look spontaneous. This can be a tricky balance - you don't want to intrude upon the music and make the experience seem contrived, yet you don't want to appear "faceless" either. You also don't want your expressions to dictate how the audience should respond. It's a fine line, albeit an important one.

I think this challenge extends to any ballet, because you can only have one true "first." One never knows how an audience is going to receive a new ballet, since there is no history for it. This is both daunting and freeing. For every performance thereafter, you must allow yourself to be as vulnerable as that first time. Otherwise, you risk becoming irrelevant and voiding all the drama in a ballet, whether there's a clear story or not. That's something one has to remember as a dancer. You enter the studio and rehearse to advance your art, but you never want it to become so studied or opinionated that you cease to be current.

With its spotlight sequence, the final movement of Duo Concertant offers another lovely twist. Stravinsky's music becomes more dramatic, so Balanchine in turn heightens the visual concept. Starting with the woman's hand, a single light moves to her face, followed by a series of lights that toggle back and forth between the dancers, isolating them further from each other. Until this moment, there's been no suggestion of a "relationship" between them - but this honing in on their respective movements and features reveals an elusive connection between the two, taking on a more overt emotional tone not always found in Stravinsky ballets. It's yet another beautiful example of how Balanchine was fascinated by a man and woman dancing on a stage.

On Fancy Free

In 1944, while the world was still at war, Jerome Robbins premiered his very first ballet Fancy Free at American Ballet Theatre as a whimsical, escapist depiction of three sailors on leave in the Big Apple. A hit from the beginning, the ballet inspired the Broadway musical On The Town, which in turn was adapted for the cinema featuring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Robbins's music partner for Fancy Free was Leonard Bernstein, who had just recently come into the spotlight by conducting the New York Philharmonic. This would be the first of their many collaborations together, including West Side Story.

I remember hearing the music from Fancy Free and seeing On The Town in Cincinnati before my family moved to New York, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The choreography is very jazzy and lighthearted, and a guy in uniform is always a fetching image to audiences. The scene of three sailors in a bar, vying for the affection of two girls by trying to one-up and out-dance the others, continues to be a sheer delight.

For the premiere of Fancy Free, Robbins performed his own choreography as the third sailor. That role dances to buoyant and upbeat Latin rhythms, while the first sailor is more of a physical extrovert, jumping on the bar and doing flashy somersaults. The second sailor's variation is more lyrical, bluesy, and romantic. Which sailors do the girls choose? You'll just have to come see for yourself.

On Theme and Variations

Balanchine was commissioned by American Ballet Theatre to create Theme and Variations in 1947, a year before he formed his own company. The music is "Tema con Variazioni" - the fourth and final movement from Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major - and brings together a ballerina, her cavalier, and 12 corps couples adorned in glittering costumes, tutus and tiara included.

Theme and Variations opens amidst the sumptuous ambiance of a formal ballroom. The music and choreography both start out relatively slow and simple, with the ballerina executing a series of basic battement tendu. (I've taught this opening combination to my summer youth program "Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell," where it becomes clear that even the easiest-looking steps take plenty of practice. But by lesson's end, I can say to them all, "See, now you've danced part of a Balanchine ballet!") After the main theme's introduction, the music and dancing progress into 12 variations on the theme, each more technically complex and demanding than the last. It all culminates into a majestic polonaise processional by ballet's end.

As if nurturing a flower from seed to seedling to bud to blossom, Balanchine develops the choreography in a way that allows audiences to assimilate all its increasingly theatrical wonder. I tell my dancers to keep this in mind when learning Theme and Variations - you can't hit the stage with everything you've got right off the bat, because it wouldn't be as effective that way. This also demonstrates Balanchine's understanding of his audience in those days. Don't forget, ballet in America was still a young art form and audiences needed time to take it all in.

Balanchine eventually brought Theme and Variations to New York City Ballet in 1960, thirteen years after its ABT premiere. I never performed it, though in 1970, Balanchine integrated it into his Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3, choreographed to the composer's entire score. I eventually danced the first movement - the Elegy - of that epic work. At one point, Balanchine thought it would be novel if I were to perform the Elegy and then return at the end for the Theme and Variations, but scheduling prevented this from happening. As a Balanchine repetiteur, however, I've rehearsed the ballet for several companies.

In 1989, Theme and Variations had the distinction of being one of the first two Balanchine works mounted in St. Petersburg for the Mariinsky Ballet, his alma mater. (The other was Scotch Symphony, which opened this historic program and was my first time staging a Balanchine ballet.) With its celebration of Tchaikovsky's music and the opulent era of Russian classicism, Theme and Variations was an obvious choice for the Mariinsky's "An Evening of Balanchine." Being a part of that process was a transcendent, full-circle experience, as I witnessed his legacy finally embraced with open arms by his early training ground and land of his birth.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: "Program B"

Nov. 19 & 21 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 20 at 1:30 p.m.
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On La Sonnambula:

Bonnie Pickard and Kirk Henning in La Sonnambula: Photo by Carol Pratt 2008

La Sonnambula is one of Balanchine's rare story ballets. The work features a score by Vittorio Rieti after Vincenzo Bellini, including themes from Bellini's operas La Sonnambula, I Puritani, Norma, and I Capuletti ed i Montecchi.

Balanchine premiered the ballet in 1946 with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. At the time he called it Night Shadow - a valid description, yet when he revived it in 1960, he retained the title of Bellini's opera. Their respective plots, however, have many differences. The ballet takes place long ago, in the garden of a grand home during a masked ball. At this party, the main players are a Baron and a Coquette, who know each other well, and a Poet who wanders accidentally into their midst.

Though festive on the surface, Balanchine cunningly shows us through choreography that all is not as it appears to be. Following a series of divertissements, everyone goes inside, leaving the Poet and Coquette to themselves. He begs her to take off her mask, but with her elaborate and encircling movements, she deceives and discards him.

The ballet could end here, but our tragic Poet suddenly sees a strange light along the balcony. Enter a beautiful Sleepwalker - an apparition in white, seemingly entranced - who immediately captivates him.

Without revealing all that happens next, the Poet and Sleepwalker soon engage in a genius of a pas de deux. The duet centers primarily around a sequence of bourrées, during which the Sleepwalker glides across the stage in tiny steps on pointe. The steps may be small, but they're very difficult to master, and it is through this purest simplicity that Balanchine moves us. The pas de deux is totally mesmerizing and so poignant.

I began portraying the Sleepwalker in 1965 when I was still a solo dancer, not yet a principal. (Alexandra Danilova was the ballet's original Sleepwalker, while Maria Tallchief was its first Coquette.) I loved the role's unique challenges, as it requires you to be of another world. The Sleepwalker must remain unaware of the Poet's presence throughout the pas de deux, so there's very little eye contact between you and your partner. Instead, you must fix your gaze upon the candle in your hand.

My company hasn't performed the full La Sonnambula in almost 10 years - we added it to our repertoire in 2001 - but the pas de deux has since been excerpted for my program "The Balanchine Couple." Unlike many others by Balanchine, this ballet features costumes and scenery; the costumes for our performances will be based on the 1960 revival, because I always thought they were so lovely. With 14 men and 13 women, the cast is quite large, so I've augmented the ensemble by inviting a couple of young interns from Kennedy Center master classes. It's a great opportunity for a new generation to experience the haunting allure of La Sonnambula alongside the professional company members.

On Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra:

Read my notes on last season's Ballet Across America II for my thoughts on Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and how these two works came to be performed together.

On Eight by Adler:

Richard Adler is perhaps best known for his music for the Broadway musicals Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game. His oeuvre ranges from "Whatever Lola Wants" and "Hey There" to "You Gotta Have Heart" and "Rags to Riches." I grew up with many of these wonderful songs, so I was thrilled in 1984 when Paul Mejia decided to create a new ballet for me set to eight of Adler's most memorable tunes.

The musical sequence and orchestrations were compiled with me in mind, and I used my personal interpretations of the lyrics to determine how to portray my character for each song. I even had the opportunity to integrate some of my childhood tap routines throughout the piece.

I premiered Eight by Adler as a guest performer with Chicago City Ballet, when Paul was the company's co-artistic director alongside Maria Tallchief. Joining nine men in various combinations, I danced to all of Adler's jazzy rhythms - first in a couple of solos, followed by three pas de deux. In fact, I was onstage for nearly the entire time, darting off only once for a costume change, while all the men came together to perform "Hernando's Hideaway." Upon return, I strutted through more Broadway savvy in my former black costume and high heels from Balanchine's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

Early the following year, in 1985, Eight by Adler was filmed for television. To our pleasure, I wound up winning an Emmy Award for the performance - an honor rarely, if ever, bestowed upon a ballet dancer. Twenty-five years later, I'm having a grand time restaging this work for my own company.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: "Program A"

Nov. 17, 18, & 20 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 21 at 1:30 p.m.
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On La Source:

Pickard and Runqiao Du in La Source, photo by Scott Motta (2006)

Léo Delibes’s ballet score for Coppélia was one of my first recordings as a young girl, and I enjoyed listening to it immensely. That Balanchine also frequently loved visiting Delibes’s music is no surprise. In 1950, he initially choreographed a pas de deux to the French composer’s ballet score for Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane. Balanchine created an extended pas de deux and divertissement in 1965 to other Delibes music, including the famous “Pizzicato Polka,” in which the ballerina performed many consecutive hops on pointe.

La Source was born three years later, in 1968, performed to excerpts from Delibes’s 1866 ballet score of the same name (also called Naila) but devoid of any specific narrative or setting. The ballet also retains some of the same music and choreography from Balanchine’s previous Delibes incarnations, though the polka was removed. La Source was originally made on Violette Verdy; I first performed it in 1975 and was fortunate enough to dance the earlier two versions also. My company added this version to our repertoire in 2005.

With ballets like La Source, I believe, Balanchine sought to honor his Russian heritage and the influence of Marius Petipa – he worked to forge a bridge from the past to the present and give Petipa’s legacy a presence in America on a new set of dancers. The music of La Source is lively, joyful, and instantly recognizable, much like The Nutcracker. Most everyone has heard it, but they may not know where it came from. It seems to connect with nearly everyone in the audience, leaving many humming blissfully at intermission.

Filled with shimmering pink tutus, La Source includes several sections. It features a central couple performing two pas de deux and two variations, interspersed with a solo woman who dances with an ensemble of eight young ladies. The choreography ranges from precise, delicate steps to grand leaps and turns and Radio City Rockette kicks, with all 11 dancers returning to the stage for the finale. The entire work is pure dance – beautifully phrased, energetic, and happy.

On Sonate No. 5:

Suzanne Farrell in Sonate No. 5 (uncredited) Suzanne Farrell and Jorge Donn in Sonate No. 5 (uncredited)

One distinctive aspect to my company’s November 2010 programs is the fact that they feature four ballets originally created on me – more than I’ve ever presented before during the same engagement. They include George Balanchine’s Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Jerome Robbins’s In Memory of…, Paul Mejia’s Eight by Adler, and this one, Sonate No. 5, by Maurice Béjart. I’m proud to be a direct link to all of them, and I enjoy passing their gifts on to new audiences.

In December 1970, I made my debut in Béjart’s company Ballet du XXe Siècle with this lovely work, a pas de deux with fast, darting variations set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No. 5 for Harpsichord and Violin. Béjart made it on me and his protégée Jorge Donn, therefore it has always held tender memories. Though very classical by Béjart standards – he was well known for his many avant-garde dance/theater pieces – he had choreographed to Bach many times before. In creating Sonate No. 5, Béjart respectfully brought together a new world for us both. 

A few years before Béjart passed away in 2007, I approached him with my idea to restage Sonate No. 5. Later, his foundation was able to uncover a video of an archival rehearsal, filmed at a beautiful jewel box of a theater in Monte Carlo, right along the Riviera. On the tape, I remember Jorge and I reaching a certain lift in the pas de deux and in slow motion, he dissolved onto the floor with me on top of him. The music didn’t stop, and we kept going as dancers must do, but afterward Jorge and I laughed about the incident, amused that when someone uses the video to revive the ballet years later, they’ll wonder what that step was. How did we tumble so awkwardly but recover so gracefully?

Of course, for my company’s premiere of Sonate No. 5, I’ve recreated it with the full lift that Béjart intended. I don’t believe the work has been performed in its original form by any other company since. For our performances, the music will be set on violin and piano instead of harpsichord, with the musicians on stage. Forty years after Sonate’s world premiere, I’m excited to give Béjart’s solemn ballet a new life.

On In Memory of:

Suzanne Farrell and Adam Luders in In Memory Of, (photo by Martha Swope)

In my autobiography Holding On to the Air, I wrote: "One day in early 1985, I was standing near the water fountain outside the main hall after class when Jerry [Robbins] came up to me and said, 'I have an idea for a new ballet, and I'd like to have you in it. What do you think?' While I had performed many Robbins ballets, this was the first time – except for In G Major ten years earlier – that Jerry had suggested using me in a new ballet."

Of course I accepted Jerry's invitation – he and I always had a friendly working relationship, and in later years we exchanged many warm letters. His idea was to stage a ballet to Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, a 1935 work commemorating the death of a young girl, the daughter to two of Berg's close friends. Though Jerry's creation would not reflect any specific story, it was a couple of years before my retirement from dancing, and two years after Balanchine's passing. So the emotional timing felt right.

In four fluid movements, In Memory of... evokes a young woman's life, cut short by death, and her ensuing resurrection. Requiring a weighty mix of vulnerability, angst, and strength, the role was a challenge for me to portray, both as a dancer and human being, yet it was also an opportunity of welcome substance. The woman is first depicted in love with a young man, but then she's thrust into a highly dramatic pas de deux with death incarnate, only to be supported by both partners by ballet's redemptive end. An ensemble of men and women also weave in and out of Jerry's dual earthly / heavenly vision, but the woman is on stage for nearly the entire length of the ballet.

With the concept of mortality pervasive in rehearsals, it was particularly reassuring to have Adam Lüders cast as the death figure for the premiere. Adam had become one of my most frequent partners, performing alongside me in such Balanchine works as Walpurgisnächt, Chaconne, and Meditation, so I felt secure in his hands. He portrayed the role of Death (though it's not specifically named as such in the program) with great force and eerie tenderness.

In Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins, a biography by Amanda Vaill, Jerry discussed writing about In Memory of... in his diary. He mentioned how he couldn't get a handle on the ballet until, one day in rehearsal, I was dancing and exploring and suddenly he just started shouting, "yes, yes!" – everything had just clicked and become clear in his head. For a choreographer known for being prescriptive in his work, this type of "a-ha" moment was a rare occurrence, at least in front of others.

In Memory of... is not performed often, so I'm thrilled to add it to my company's repertoire starting with this engagement. It's a perfect, uplifting end to our first of two mixed repertory programs.