Suzanne Farrell, one of choreographer George Balanchine's most celebrated muses and a legendary
figure in the ballet world, discusses the role of technique, what she learned from Balanchine about organizing the body and how to encourage young dancers to reach beyond technique as performers. Thirty years after she first appeared at the Pillow in two pas de deux with Peter Martins, this talk was conducted on the occasion of her company's Pillow debut.
Excerpt from PillowTalk: Suzanne Farrell, recorded July 8, 2006.
PillowTalks feature world-renowned choreographers, dancers, authors, filmmakers, historians, and critics in live hour-long moderated discussions of the cultural forces shaping the field of dance. Curated by Jacob's Pillow Director of Preservation Norton Owen and moderated by Jacob's Pillow Scholars-in-Residence, PillowTalks use dance as a prism to explore the world at large.
One of George Balanchine's most celebrated muses and a legendary
figure in the ballet world, Suzanne Farrell serves as Artistic
Director of her own company, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. She is also a repetiteur for The George
Balanchine Trust, the independent organization founded after the
choreographer's death by the heirs to his ballets to oversee their
worldwide licensing and production. Since 1988 she has staged
Balanchine's works for such companies as the Berlin Opera Ballet, the
Vienna State Opera Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Paris Opera
Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet, as well as American
companies, including those in Boston, Miami, Seattle, Cincinnati, Fort
Worth, and New York. She was born in Cincinnati, and she received her
early training at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Farrell joined Balanchine's New York City Ballet in the fall of 1961
after a year as a Ford Foundation scholarship student at the School of
American Ballet. Her unique combination of musical, physical, and
dramatic gifts quickly ignited Balanchine's imagination. By the mid
1960s, she was not only Balanchine's most prominent ballerina, she was a
symbol of the era, and remains so to this day. As a performer she restated and
re-scaled such Balanchine masterpieces as Apollo, Concerto Barocco, and Symphony in C. Balanchine went on to invent new masterworks for her — Diamonds, for example, and Chaconne and Mozartiana,
in which the limits of ballerina technique were expanded to a degree
not seen before or since. By the time she retired from the stage in
1989, Ms. Farrell had achieved a career that is without precedent or
parallel in the history of ballet.
During her 28 years on the
stage, she danced a repertory of more than one hundred ballets, nearly a
third of which were composed expressly for her by Balanchine and other
choreographers, including Jerome Robbins and Maurice Béjart. Her
numerous performances with Balanchine's company (more than two
thousand), her world tours, and her appearances in television and movies
have made her one of the most recognizable and highly esteemed artists
of her generation. She is also the recipient of numerous artistic and
academic accolades. Since the fall of 2000, Ms. Farrell has been a
full-time professor in the dance department at Florida State University
in Tallahassee, Florida.
In addition to her work for the
Balanchine Trust, she is active in a variety of cultural and
philanthropic organizations such as the New York State Council on the
Arts, the Arthritis Foundation, the Professional Children's School, and
the Princess Grace Foundation. Summit Books published her autobiography,
Holding On to the Air in 1990 and Suzanne Farrell - Elusive Muse (directed by Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson) was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Film in 1997.
Contemporary dance historian and dance writer Maura Keefe is a Scholar-in-Residence at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. She has led audience engagement programs at numerous locations including Princeton University, UCLA, the Goethe Institut, City Center and DANCECleveland. Her current research areas are the exploration of the choreography of talking dancing in contemporary dance and the relationships between dance
and sports. Keefe has an MFA in choreography and performance from Smith College, and a PhD in dance history and theory from University of California, Riverside. She is the chair of the Department of Dance at SUNY College at Brockport.