Suzanne Farrell has always done things her own way. In the 1960s and ’70s, when she rose to stardom as George Balanchine’s preeminent muse at New York City Ballet, she set the standard for dancing that was committed, mercurial and marvelously alive to the music. Fearless in the face of multiple pirouettes and perilous transitions, she was like a force of nature: earth, air, water, fire, Farrell. So it’s not surprising that as the artistic director of her own company Farrell is still doing things her own way. With its innovative structure and idealistic programming, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is the very model of a swift and nimble 21st-century ballet company. 

The founding of the company took place in 2001, but the seed was planted in 1993, when James Wolfensohn, then the chairman of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, DC, asked Farrell if she would be interested in starting a dance program. She was. “It started out very modestly,” Farrell remembers, “and then it evolved into a three-week summer program, and then an international program.” As the students matured, Farrell and the Kennedy Center presented them in recitals of Balanchine ballets. These performances, few and far between, generated huge excitement in the ballet world, where it was felt that Farrell’s supreme knowledge of Balanchine’s aesthetic had not found the proper outlet. The shows earned rapturous reviews: Farrell had a gift for staging Mr. B’s ballets, yes, but also for inspiring the Balanchine ethic of spontaneity and snap in dancers from many backgrounds. From its foundations in the Kennedy Center education department, the Farrell enterprise flowered into a ballet company with a serious focus. The Kennedy Center recognized this development and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet was born.

“The mission, because of my special relationship with Mr. Balanchine, is to preserve his integrity and his ballets,” Farrell explains. “It’s not enough to do Mr. B’s steps if you don’t have his philosophy and his values.”

And what are those values? “The dancers always take class,” she says. “They listen. They are dedicated. They never mark.” In dealing with the budget constraints of today’s economy, Farrell recalls the practical side of Balanchine. “Mr. B said, ‘If you don’t have ornate costumes, do it in practice clothes. If you don’t have this, then do that.’ I run the company on that kind of model.”

The company’s repertoire of over 50 ballets is distinctive in that most of the pieces—by Balanchine (first and foremost), Jerome Robbins and Maurice Béjart—were either created for Farrell or frequently performed by her. Deeply intimate with the works she is teaching and coaching, Farrell has been able to revive Balanchine ballets that “had been done for me and were no longer performed. Or they were lost, and only I knew the choreography. It gives my company a repertoire that no other company has.” The retrieved ballets thus far include Ragtime (1966), Divertimento Brillante (1967) and Pithoprakta (1968).

Because it’s not a full-time company, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet can do something unique in the world of classical dance: It teams up with bigger companies to collaborate on the presentation of large-scale ballets. In 2005, Farrell’s dancers joined with the National Ballet of Canada to perform Balanchine’s complete production of Don Quixote, the full-length ballet from 1965 that was Balanchine’s very public declaration of his love for Farrell. The ballet, last staged in 1978, was also willed to Farrell, and its revival was a dance-world event. Two years later, in 2007, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet partnered with Cincinnati Ballet to present Chaconne, and in 2008, performed Episodes with Ballet Austin.

“This allows me to do ballets which require more dancers than there are in my core company,” says Farrell. “We perform in the hometown of the partnership company and then they come perform at the Kennedy Center. On both sides, it gives the dancers longer periods of work. So it’s just a good thing all around.”

This coming season, the company celebrates its 10th anniversary by teaming up with Sarasota Ballet to perform  “Diamonds”—Mr. B’s glittering homage to Farrell—from Jewels, along with the classics Serenade and Concerto Barocco, at the Kennedy Center from October 12 to 16. Then The Suzanne Farrell Ballet travels solo to The Joyce Theater in New York City for a weeklong engagement October 19 to 23.

Looking to the future, Farrell says, “Naturally, I would like longer seasons or more seasons at the Kennedy Center, but I think we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. I wouldn’t want to be too big, because then you have too many dancers not dancing all the time. It’s onstage, in performance, where you really learn how to perform, not just rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Everyone in my company dances everything. Everyone’s an important piece of the necklace. It’s a happy company.” 















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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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