There's a sweet spot toward the end of August—after summer intensives have wrapped up and before it's time to head back to school or work—where the days are long, lazy and begging to be spent neck-deep in a pile of good books. Whether you're looking for inspiration for the upcoming season or trying to brush up on your dance history, you can never go wrong with an excellent book on ballet. We've gathered eight titles (all available at common booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble) guaranteed to give you a deeper understanding of the art form, to add to your end-of-summer reading list.
In a large practice studio inside Lincoln Center's Koch Theater, Suzanne Farrell watches quietly as New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen work through a series of supported poses. As Janzen kneels to face her, Mearns brushes through to croisé arabesque, extending her leg high behind her. "I wouldn't penché there," says Farrell, gently. "You can, but I wouldn't."
"I get so excited here," says Mearns with a laugh. The three are slowly working through the pas de deux of "Diamonds," the ballet George Balanchine created on Farrell and Jacques D'Amboise in 1967 that makes up the third act of his full-length Jewels.
"I know," Farrell says. "But it's more exciting if the arabesque turn afterwards is sustained."
Former New York City Ballet dancer Kurt Froman is best known for training celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence for dance roles on film. Yet Froman's Instagram has become our newest obsession for a whole other reason. Over the past few months, Froman has been posting rarely-seen clips of old NYCB rehearsal and performance videos. These videos feature Balanchine dancers from the early days, such as Suzanne Farrell, Arthur Mitchell, Karin von Aroldingen, Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise as well as recently retired stars like Damian Woetzel, Darci Kistler, Peter Boal, Wendy Whelan and Lourdes Lopez. The videos are majority of works by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (often in honor of his centennial this year), mixed in with a few television features on Balanchine.
If, like us, you're prone to geeking out over ballet history, you might want to set aside the rest of your afternoon (ahem, week) to dive in. We've posted some of our favorites below.
Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, early 1960s.
One of the titans among choreographers of the 20th century, Jerome Robbins will be celebrated by a number of ballet companies worldwide in 2018 for the centennial of his birth. He died in 1998 at age 79 after a prolific career. His rare talent enabled him to direct and choreograph Broadway hits (West Side Story, On the Town and Fiddler on the Roof, among many) and to create sublime ballets, such as Afternoon of a Faun for New York City Ballet; Fancy Free (his first ballet) for American Ballet Theatre; and NY Export: Opus Jazz for his short-lived troupe Ballets: U.S.A.
Jerome Robbins. Photo Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.
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.
"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.
If you'll be in the Chicago area next month, the historic Auditorium Theatre is putting together a one-night-only performance you don't want to miss. The event is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the theater's reopening in 1967, which featured a performance of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream by former New York City Ballet principals Suzanne Farrell and Edward Villella. With Farrell and Villella returning to the theater as guests, the November 12th program will include a mixed repertory performed by dancers from companies including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, The Washington Ballet, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Vienna State Ballet and Dutch National Ballet.
The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago from its 1967 opening. Photo by Richard Nickel, courtesy Auditorium Theatre.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's Jewels, and companies around the world are paying homage. While last summer's Lincoln Center Festival collaboration with New York City Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet was all glamour and excitement, Pacific Northwest Ballet is taking a reverential look back in advance of its opening performances next week.
In 2014, PNB artistic director Peter Boal invited four stars of Balanchine's original 1967 cast—Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Edward Villella and Jacques d'Amboise—to coach the company in their signature roles. And, thank heavens, they captured it all on film. This 20-minute promotional documentary offers priceless footage of them in rehearsals, interviews and lecture demonstrations, offering fascinating insights into Balanchine's creative process and original intentions.
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You probably remember watching "Sesame Street" in your pre-ballet days, but did you know that some of your favorite ballet dancers and companies have appeared alongside your favorite PBS characters?
We've rounded up some our most beloved ballet scenes from the classic children's program below.
Count Suzanne Farrell's turns
Remember the days when you counted "1, 2, 3, 4" instead "and, 5, 6, 7, 8"? Relive that time as you—and the Count—add up the legendary Balanchine muse's turns in this 1985 episode.
Former New York City Ballet principal Suzanne Farrell is famous as George Balanchine's muse, yet Balanchine wasn't the only choreographer whom she inspired. In 1984 her then-husband, Paul Mejia, also a former NYCB dancer, created a piece for her called Eight by Adler, a jazzy ballet set to the music of Richard Adler. Beginning at 0:45 after a short intro, Farrell performs the first movement in this clip from the ballet's premiere with the Chicago City Ballet.
The slender, long-limbed Farrell saunters across the stage, at moments giving the audience playful smiles and sideways glances. The choreography feels improvisational, befitting Farrell's proclivity for off-balance, suspended movement. With a full jazz band onstage, the music is equally the star in this solo. Even though the slow and sultry piece is a far cry from Balanchine's fast footwork, Farrell's mesmerizing performance in Eight by Adler is a stunning example of Mr. B's famous slogan: "See the music, hear the dance." Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
"The whole thing was—I like jewels," the choreographer George Balanchine told an interviewer in the spring of 1967, when asked about his newest creation for New York City Ballet, a triptych called—what else?—Jewels. He had his photograph taken while gazing appreciatively at Van Cleef & Arpels designs, or surrounded by ballerinas wearing bejeweled headpieces and gem-toned costumes by Karinska. Balanchine had an instinct for promotion; the ballet was a huge success and is still regularly performed by NYCB and other companies around the world. At the Lincoln Center Festival this summer (July 20–23), 50 years after the first performance, three companies—the Paris Opéra Ballet, NYCB and the Bolshoi Ballet—will join together to perform it in a single night. The French will dance "Emeralds." On different nights, the Russians and the Americans will alternate in "Rubies" and "Diamonds."
This seems appropriate, as each of Jewels' sections alludes to a different style of ballet: French, American, Russian. Ballet was born in France. More importantly, France is where Romantic ballet, with its feather-light technique and delicate, wafting arms, was refined. (Think La Sylphide and Giselle.) The next chapter of its development took place in Russia, where ballet acquired its grandeur, thanks to the imagination of Marius Petipa and the splendor of the Imperial Theatres. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, this world disappeared. Balanchine, along with many others, left the country, bringing his ideas about ballet to Europe and later to America, or, more precisely, to New York City.
As the curtain closed on the tender image of Juliet intertwined with her Romeo, the audience at Minneapolis’ Northrop Auditorium paused, letting the raw abandon of Sara Ivan’s performance wash over them before breaking into thunderous applause. Ivan had poured heart and soul into Maurice Béjart’s grueling 15-minute pas de deux. The performance, part of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s spring tour last year, meant more than a triumphant homecoming for Ivan, who grew up in the Twin Cities. It also marked her victory over an injury that had caused her to lose the role of Juliet three years earlier and almost derailed her career.
As a young student at Minnesota Dance Theatre, Ivan knew she wanted a dance career. When she was 17, on a whim she auditioned for Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell, a Balanchine-based intensive at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. “The audition was at our studio, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just take an extra class,’ ” she says. But she found herself immediately captivated by Farrell. “She was so elegant and a little intimidating,” she says. Ivan lacked any Balanchine training, but nevertheless Farrell accepted her on scholarship.
When she arrived in Washington, Ivan felt overwhelmed. She couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced Balanchine style and wasn’t used to wearing pointe shoes at the barre. “Suzanne approached me the third day, and I thought she was going to kick me out,” says Ivan. Instead, Farrell asked if she’d be interested in joining her company. Ivan stammered that she would be honored, to which Farrell replied, “Well, we’ll see.”
Fueled by Farrell’s encouragement, Ivan made an intense effort, absorbing corrections, going across the floor as often as she could. She fell in love with Farrell’s teaching style. “She used a lot of metaphors,” says Ivan. “She would compare développé to putting on white satin gloves.” On the last day of the summer program, Farrell took her aside and offered her a contract. “It was a dream come true,” Ivan says.
Through Farrell’s classes and videos of Balanchine ballets, Ivan started transforming her technique. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet works sporadically throughout the year, so many of its dancers freelance during off-seasons. For two years, Ivan danced with Washington Ballet’s studio company when Farrell’s company was off. In 2006, when Ivan was 20, Farrell cast her as the lead in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. The role calls for extreme flexibility and accentuated Ivan’s supple extensions. It was her first lead, and she knew that as a young corps member she needed to prove herself. “There are things at 20 that you just don’t have,” says Ivan in retrospect. “Strength, partnering experience, artistic maturity.” To compensate, Ivan threw herself into rehearsals to the point of exhaustion. “I was pushing too hard and wasn’t resting enough or eating properly,” she says. One morning during grand allegro, Ivan fell and felt something in her left knee snap. Terrified of losing her opportunity, she continued to dance on her injured knee for a week. She only made matters worse: By the time she saw a doctor she had completely torn her ACL. She would need reconstructive surgery to dance again.
Ivan was devastated. Another dancer took her place in Romeo and Juliet, but Farrell asked Ivan to assist during stage rehearsals. “I would point details out to her,” says Farrell. “Watching from the front provides a different perspective.” Ivan agrees. “I learned that even the smallest correction can make a big difference, and sitting in the audience I had the visual to see why.”
Ivan’s recovery lasted nine long months. Once reliant on her hypermobility, Ivan now had to develop strength and control. And she realized that she needed to take better care of herself. She returned to the company determined to put her setback behind her.
Last year, Farrell scheduled a reprise of Romeo and Juliet for the company’s national tour and gave Ivan a second chance to tackle the role. Ivan was thrilled. Her final Juliet in Minneapolis marked a turning point in her career. “I felt this moment of ‘I have arrived,’ ” she says. “I’m free to go on now with nothing holding me back.”