Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NYCB Style - Part II: The Farrell Influence, by Croce

Suzanne Farrell in the sixties

“Balanchine's Girls: The Making of Style” April 1971, Croce.

[Farrell] was big and strong and handsome, but without much personal force. In her tiny leotard, she looked very like a big bee, but more like a woman-sized baby. With that almost perverse precocity that was then characteristic of the younger generation, she could do anything Balanchine asked of her, and do it on a grander scale, at greater speed, and with a silkier recovery and sense of control than anyone else. And then we began to see that Farrell had a line that was positively voluptuous. Farrell, her stage personality as yet undeveloped, moved at once into a lead position. Our style was thin no more.

In any decently written history of the NYCB, the years 1963-9 would consume several chapters. The Farrell Years saw the company remade in a new, younger, and more romantic image. For Farrell personally they began in glory and ended in confusion and estrangement. Because of her importance to Balanchine – she was probably the most important dancer who ever entered his life – her rise to prima status was spectacular and sudden, perhaps too sudden. When her break with Balanchine came in the middle of the 1969 season, her repertory totaled 32 roles. She was everywhere and nowhere. Her beauty fascinated more people than were repelled by her flamboyance. She transformed the company, freed Balanchine from the excessive braininess of “modernism” and departed, like Dulcinea, who in the ballet is apotheosized, the Queen of Heaven. Her place in the history of the company is sacrosanct.

Peter Martins and Farrell in Diamonds, photo by Paul Kolnik

“Farrell and Farrellism” February 1975, Croce.

It isn’t that Farrell is so terribly big; it’s that she dances big in relation to her base of support. The lightness of the instep, the speed of her dégagé are still thrilling. You’d think a dancer moving that fast couldn’t possibly consume so much space – that she’d have to be more squarely planted. Farrell defies the logic of mechanics, and in that defiance is the essence of the new heroism she brought to Balanchine’s stage a little over a decade ago.

Farrell and Balanchine 'shopping' for jewelry, mid-70s

“Free and More Than Equal”
February 1975, Croce.

Farrell’s independent drive no longer seems unacceptable burdensome to her, and her mastery implies no rebuke. And what mastery it is – of continual off-center balances maintained with light support or no support at all, of divergently shaped steps unthinkable combined in the same phrase, of invisible transitions between steps and delicate shifts of weight in poses that reveal new and sweet harmonies or proportion no matter how wide or subtle the contrast. Your eye gorges on her variety, your heart stops at the brink of very precipice. She, however, sails calmly out into space and returns as if the dancer did not exist. Farrell’s style in Diamonds (and the third act of Don Quixote) is based on risk; she is almost always off balance and always secure. Her confidence in moments of great risk gives her the leeway to suggest what no ballerina has suggested before her – that she can sustain herself, that she can go it alone. Farrell perfects the act of balance/imbalance as a constant feature of dancing. It is not equilibrium as stasis, it is equilibrium as continuity that she excels in. Although she can take a piqué arabesque and stand unaided, she’s capable of much more; her conquests are really up there where the richer hazards are. In the finale, her partner is only there to stop her. She slips like a fish through his hands. She doesn’t stop, doesn’t wait, doesn’t depend, and she can’t fall. She’s like someone who has learned to breathe thin air. Of course, the autonomy of the ballerina is an illusion, but Farrell’s is the extremest form of this illusion we have yet seen, and it makes Diamonds a riveting spectacle about the freest woman alive.

1 comment:

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

What effects a woman can have on a man! Makes me almost feel sorry for Balanchine.