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The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Says Goodbye

Natalie Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in "Meditation," the first ballet Balanchine created on Farrell. Photo by Teresa Wood, Courtesy The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

Last fall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that its resident company, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, would disband following its final performances December 7–9. A wholly unique endeavor, TSFB—of which I was a member for 10 years—would draw dancers from around the country together to work closely with Farrell, one of Balanchine's most celebrated muses. And while contracts were short on weeks, they were long on intensity and inspiration. According to the Kennedy Center, Farrell will transition into a resident teaching artist role as the Center expands its studio space and educational programs, although details are vague. In addition to Balanchine's Meditation (which is exclusive to TSFB), the final program includes Tzigane, Serenade, Chaconne and the rarely seen Gounod Symphony, which the company reconstructed in 2016. I spoke with my former director about her final season, and her reflections on her company.

What has been the most rewarding part of directing your company?

One reason why I thought a company was necessary was that I had been staging Mr. B's ballets all over the world, and that's nice, but you only see the first performance. You don't know how it's going to grow or what future it has. I believed I could do better work if I had my own dancers—that's the atmosphere I grew up in. You can go back to those ballets and become better and discover new things about them.

Another reward is being able to learn all of the parts instead of just my own. I had rarely seen many of these ballets because I was dancing in them. There are multiple layers beyond your own part and they're all connected. Having performed them and having been in the studio when they were created gave me an incredible insight and knowledge about the entire "world" of that ballet, because I was there when it was being born.



How did you choose your company's final program?

It wasn't easy. I looked for ballets that we hadn't danced for a while with particular historic meaning for the company and myself. I wanted to do Gounod again because it was so much fun and so well received, and it was as if Mr. B had returned and created a ballet just for us. Not many audiences have seen it, so it's certainly worth repeating. We also haven't performed Chaconne in a long time—that was a piece he did for me, so I thought it would be appropriate. And then, of course, Serenade; it's Mr. B newly arrived in America, such an iconic and seminal ballet. The Dark Angel role was the first solo Mr. B had me dance when I was in the corps. I still get nervous when I hear the music.

You are also doing Balanchine's Tzigane and Meditation, which you own the rights to.

Correct. We are the only company that can perform them. Meditation was the first ballet Mr. B created on me; in retrospect he choreographed our lives, so it has profound meaning. It's also a very beautiful pas de deux, timeless in its sentiment. And Tzigane is so different in atmosphere, music and sense of play.


Suzanne Farrell. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy TSFB.

What did you discover about Balanchine that you weren't as aware of as a dancer?

How united the corps is—the choreography isn't exactly the same as the principals' or the other featured dancers', but it's united and related in various ways. When you teach it, you see the similarities in musical phrasing and that it has a flavor of what the principals would develop further in the pas de deux. And then Mr. B's sense of humor, his sense of musicality—when you tell each person their responsibility and importance to the ballet, it is so revelatory.

Your class combinations are full of brain teasers, which helped me learn so much about musicality. What do you try to impart on the dancers?

I hope that it makes everyone more acutely aware of the music. I was always amazed that you dancers did what I asked for. This is not always the atmosphere at other companies—that's why I cherish my dancers so much. But also, most artistic directors don't teach company class. They're busy with administrative issues, so I was fortunate in that sense. When you spend more time with each other in the studio, you're not as guarded in how you're going to dance, which then translates onto the stage.

Allynne Noelle (center) with members of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in "Gounod Symphony." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy TSFB.

I also felt that we were all on board with an intensely focused, singular vision.

Thank you. It seemed very clear and uncomplicated. You could give everything as a dancer, and that's very unique. Mr. B was like that. After we moved to the State Theater, he began teaching company class all the time. Not everybody came, because the classes were difficult; they were classes to improve in, and for him to learn about us and for us to know what he wanted. You can't achieve this if you don't share that important time.

There aren't many details about your next role. Are you looking forward to teaching more? Will you continue staging on other companies?

You know me. I've always lived in the now. I'm consumed with preparing for the season. It's so much easier being a dancer. [Laughs.] You're only responsible for your own part. On the other hand, teaching and directing has extended my dance life in a way that I never could have as a performer. And I still enjoy my work and respect it—it is my destiny.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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