Because I've lived in NYC for most of my life, I grew up alongside NYCB.  Although, just a child, I was exposed to the Balanchine era dancers through yearly Christmas outings to see The Nutcracker. Even still, I don't believe I ever witnessed Suzanne Farrell dance on stage, only on PBS specials.  By the time I was old enough to sit still for ballet performances, Farrell was already experiencing hip problems.  But that doesn't mean I didn't "see" the style that her partnership with Balanchine forged for NYCB.

Farrell's influence on the company was akin to an artistic atomic bomb.  Balanchine, in his fascination, tried to study the point where classical style, his neo-classical style met with her personal dancing style.  He wanted to triangulate that element and pass it on to other female dancers.  I do believe that dancer Gelsey Kirkland and critic Arlene Croce were correct in surmising that this quest may have detrimentally hurt the company's dancers as well as giving the company its "look".  When looking back to that era, we see loads of dancers purposefully chosen by Balanchine or purposefully copying Suzanne Farrell.  Even early photos of Gelsey Kirkland show that she resembled Farrell to a certain extent.  You can see the influence in Merrill Ashley, Sara Leland, Lourdes Lopes, Maria Calegari, and more.

It's in the flick of the wrist traveling after the body reaches a full arabesque or the slight, delayed positioning of arms to fifth position in assisted turns.  Farrell's arms are never classical nor even fully neo-classical but more like guidelines as she marks the positions but never stops moving. More noticeably you can see Farrell in exaggerated ronde de jambes that pull the hips a bit out of alignment.  Or even a flicker of an over extended leg that opens up the hip to slightly distort the body line.  All of this was passed on to the NYCB dancers in Farrell's shadow.

When we were all in the eye of the storm, it was hard to see how much Balanchine allowed one dancer to influence his choreography.  It was hard to see how much all the dancers tried to emulate her in order to please their choreographer whether it was intentional or just through osmosis.  There was enough of it to be remarked upon but not enough to reveal how much his choreography depended on one dancer's personality.

But now, present day, we see this lack.  I'm not saying that today's NYCB dancers are not as talented as Farrell and the rest of the Balanchine era dancers.  They are just as technically and artistically accomplished.  But what they lack are the Farrellisms.  Unfortunately, these elements are just as much the choreography as the steps.  Each little Farrell quirk a testimony in time of Balanchine's relationship to her, his greatest muse.

I think the company is going to have to make a decision to fully include the full intentions of its patron choreographer or decide to change his ballets.  Already ballets such as Diamonds are becoming muddled, losing their characteristic moments because the company no longer employs Suzanne Farrell as a coach or teacher.  Even if they don't want the former muse back in New York State Theater, at least employ Balanchine era dancers who know the intention.

D'Amboise's coaching of Pacific Northwest Ballet captures some of the Farrellism quirks but not so much that it erases the personality of dancer Lesley Rausch.  PNB, with D'Amboise's coaching, captured the old NYCB style.  This is missing at NYCB itself.

To be blunt, time is running out.  The greatest muse of Balanchine is not getting younger and she is working hard on keeping her mentor's unadulterated style alive through her school and ballet company.  Her theory of movement and her style is PURE Balanchine whether the powers that be now in NYCB like it or not.  Or even like her personally or not.

A decision must be made to fully preserve this style dedicated to the love of one, special dancer or just give up the ghost.

Labels: , , , , , ,