The one where Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins do a jitterbug

Edward Villella in Prodigal Son

Suzanne Farrell was one of George Balanchine’s last muses.  He had a habit of finding some little quirky thing about his female dancers and then fixating on it- and them.  Balanchine was a bit of a stalker in that regard.  When he found something about the dancer he liked, he choreographed for her.  It was almost always a her.  Even Mikail Baryshnikov couldn’t get Balanchine to choreograph a piece for him, although it should be noted that Balanchine liked athletic male dancers.  My first impressions of the NYCB was that the dancers were really elite athletes.  There was nothing sissy about Edward Villela jumping defiantly with his fists over his head in Prodigal Son.  And all of the female dancers defied the laws of gravity, extension and precision.  They were grace with muscles of steel.

So, anyway, Farrell got on George’s obsession list.  He loved her.  No, literally, he LOVED her.  He married several of his ballerinas but Farrell played hard to get.  She had no problems making love to him in dance but she wasn’t going to sleep with him.  The more he worshipped her and the more beautiful the dance they made together, the more insistent he got.  Finally, Farrell married soloist Paul Mejia, and they escaped to France for a few years until Balanchine cooled his jets.  A few years later, Farrell moved back to the NYCB and they picked up where they left off.  George was a little more tempered by then.  He did have other muses but Farrell seemed to read his thoughts like no other dancer.  I think this is because she had a gifted musicality and Balanchine understood music like few other choreographers.  His father was a composer and during the Russian Revolution when the ballet schools were closed, Balanchine made his living as a pianist. Balanchine’s musical choices for his non-story ballets brought out the conductor in him.  His choreography picked out musical lines, his pairs became parts of fugues.  You can almost see him waving a baton at them.

This ballet, Chaconne, showcases Balanchine and Farrell’s musicality beautifully, with Peter Martins dancing as Balanchine’s surrogate.  Something about this ballet reminds me of the opening piece of Disney’s Fantasia, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,  where each musical instrument appears to create waves of sound in colorful vibrations.  It’s synesthetic. But there’s also a whimsical easter egg in it.  It’s in part 2 at the 2:00 minute mark.

Peter Martins took over as artistic director of NYCB after Balanchine’s death.  He’s been a faithful steward of the ballets but not necessarily a gifted choreographer.  Martins is also a student of the Bournonville school of dance and some of this past life is still evident in the ease of his footwork and light jumping.  He’s elegant, refined and buff as all get out.

Part 1

Part 2

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2 Responses

  1. i wish it was possible to find more balanchine on the internet. it seems so locked up in trademarks and patents–fortunately, not as dysfunctionally as the martha graham legacy. i was hoping i could see concerto barocco, because i wanted to compare it with the parody by the ballets trocadero de monte carlo. my memory of stuff i saw maybe 40 years ago now is getting pretty dim.

    • I don’t think trademarks are the problem. The issue is that the Balanchine trust believes that dance companies will use the videos to stage Balanchine ballets but will do so poorly, compromising the artistic component of the movements. I think they have a point. That’s why the Balanchine trust sends Balanchine trained dancers, sort of like living repositories, to make sure that the choreography and style is faithful to the creator’s intention.
      In fact, if you want to see how badly a Balanchine ballet can be staged, check out the various versions of the Tchaikovsky PDD. There are some decent ones and then there are some truly awful ones. The Russians especially simply do not get Balanchine.
      There is a jewel of a Balanchine ballet available on YouTube, no pun intended. It’s Jewels by the Paris Opera Ballet. It looks like they got someone from the Balanchine trust to coach them because it is truly wonderful. Emeralds is simply breathtaking.
      There are some companies that do Balanchine better than others. I’ve heard good things about the San Francisco ballet getting the Balanchine style. Also, the Miami City Ballet is gaining a pretty good reputation, which shouldn’t be a surprise because it is being directed by the fiery Edward Villella. When I was a kid and lived about 5 miles from Saratoga, I could not wait to see Villella dance. His Prodigal Son was stunning. I never knew anyone could jump so high or with such speed and passion. It was to die for. Those afternoons at SPAC were bliss. The time passed so quickly. But I learned so much about music back then. I owe that to Balanchine.

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