My First Suzanne Farrell Experience!

Last night, I met up with fellow dance blogger, Art, at the NY Library of the Performing Arts to watch a newly restored film of George Balanchine’s 1965 ballet Don Quixote, performed by the choreographer and his then muse (and one of the greatest and most famous ballerinas of the 20th Century) Suzanne Farrell. The film, which is now available for private viewing in the library’s research carrels, was shown last night to an audience.

I’m currently reading Ms. Farrell’s autobio (one of MANY books overspilling my night table…) but this was my first time actually seeing her dance, and, oh my gosh, I was beyond blown away. She was just the epitome of grace and serenity and beatific, angelic, ethereal purity. Her arms were like water and her body at times looked like a candle’s brightly flickering flame. I can see why she was his muse! And she was only 19 in the film; all of those qualities that make a sublime dancer thusly so are present from the get-go, several of us agreed after the showing in the lobby.

The film is a bit wobbly in places. The filmming wasn’t sanctioned (making the movie a piece of bootleg!) So, at times the light is so dim you can’t really make out what is happening; sometimes the camera is focused on a dancer who isn’t dancing, cutting off someone else who is, there’s lots of blurriness, and the sound is often distorted. Somehow you can always see radiant Suzanne, though, which is what is most important of course!

Also, this version of the ballet is rather dark, based closely on the original Cervantes, not on (19th Century ballet-maker) Petipa’s more fun-loving, celebratory classical ballet filled with flirty characters and thrilling, virtuostic dancing. I rather liked Balanchine’s more melancholy interpretation. I wish New York City Ballet was still performing it today. Sadly, the ballet got mixed reviews, so they nixed it.

It was really fun seeing this with an actual audience. I think if I’d viewed it at a private carrel or checked it out and watched it at home on video I might have got bored. But seeing it with other ballet fans (some very long-time), hearing their gasps when Balanchine’s Don Quixote has his feet washed by Farrell’s Dulcinea, then dried by her long, flowing hair (Balanchine, many many years Farrell’s elder, suffered an unrequited romantic love for her), their heavy applauding at the end of one of Farrell’s solos, their enthusiastic whispering when someone who was obviously a famous dancer back then came on the screen, all made it so much more intriguing, made it all come alive. Some of the faces I’m seeing at all of these dance events are beginning to become familiar now, and it’s really nice sensing that you’re part of a community, especially in the hugeness of New York City.

Speaking of familiar faces, Art and I ran into Monica in the lobby and we chatted for a bit, which was fun. Her daughter is an aspiring ballerina and currently studies at the School of American Ballet, founded by Balanchine and connected to New York City Ballet.

Art is just amazing, and, after reading his blog for several months now, it was so great finally to meet him! So knowledgeable about ballet, though so young :) He lives in L.A. but was here checking out grad schools in art admin. After the showing, I dragged him to Cafe Mozart because I’m a pig and a half :) to chat more. As an undergrad at USC he took a dance history class with the (in)famous critic Lewis Segal! He said I should be reading Edwin Denby (which Terry Teachout and my friend the great dance writer Apollinaire Scherr :) have told me as well), so when my next Borders coupon arrives via email, I will have to break down and buy it. We discussed dancers, dance companies, dance journalism, dance presenters, theater, London verses New York for all of the above … he recommended for my next Blackpool trip (in May / June next year), I fly into London instead of Manchester so I can bookend my ballroom dancing extravaganza with some dance at Sadler’s Wells. He even knew what was on their agenda at that time of year! See, smart!! It was so nice meeting you, Art, and I hope you do relocate here for grad school :) In the meantime, keep blogging!

8 Comments

  1. Tonya, remember when there was a dance bookstore on Broadway near Lincoln Center? I think it was where the Starbucks is now. Anyhow, one day I was browsing in there and picked up an autographed copy of Holding on to the Air. I was in heaven. I’ve always loved Suzanne Farrell but never had the chance to see her dance in person, since I lived in LA when she was in her prime and NYCB rarely toured there. Have you seen the 1996 documentary “Elusive Muse” about her relationship with Balanchine? It’s available on Netflix – check it out. If I’m remembering correctly there are clips in it from Don Q.

  2. There was a bookstore devoted to dance near Lincoln Center?! I didn’t know that — I wonder what happened to it? Yes, others have told me about “Elusive Muse” as well, and I don’t belong to Netflix. I guess I’ll have to get an account, because I can never find it in the library. I’m reading her book now too. She seems like such a sweet, ingenuous person, her writing voice is really lovely. Makes me wish all the more I would have seen her dance in person.

  3. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of Netflix. Never thought I needed it/had the time for it since I see a lot of movies at the cinema and during TV season I have my evening faves. However, I finally joined at the cheapest level and have since seen some wonderful dance documentaries and indie/foreign films that don’t make it out here to our multiplex in the boonies.I recommend it.

  4. Welcome to the Suzanne Farrell universe.

    I am too young to have had the opportunity to see Suzanne Farrell dance in person, but she is truly a dancer that transcends celluloid. How someone who last danced 20 years ago can be my favorite dancer can only be understood once you have watched her on video. If you search Youtube for “Bejart” and “Susan Farrell”, someone has posted the entire Bejart Romeo & Juliet which was filmed in 1972. There are also two other Bejart R&J performances by other dancers on Youtube, so you can have fun comparing different performances.

    You can easily purchase Elusive Muse through Amazon.com. Not only do you see Don Q snippets, there are also early CBC videos of her in an early Apollo with D’Amboise ,2nd Mvt Concerto Barrocco and Midsummer Nights Dream. To view Suzanne’s progression as a dancer also illuminates Balanchine’s choreographic direction in the late 70’s and at times, you can still see her influence in certain historic Balanchine ballets. For example, Suzanne’s style of large, sweeping legato phrasing changed the way the Apollo pas de duex is danced today.

    FYI – the Don Q was filmed by Allegra Kents then husband, Burt Stern. He is the photographer who captured that magical moment of Allegra Kent and Edward Villela in Bugaku which is on the cover of “Tributes”.

  5. Thanks for all of this, Griffin — I’m definitely going to check it all out. She was so much more than I ever expected!

  6. I wish I could get to see this somehow!!

  7. I recently started a myspace fan page for Suzanne Farrell. If anyone here would like to join it please send me a request, since I can’t figure out how to send you all one from here, if that’s possible.
    thanks!

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