Suzanne Farrell (born August 16, 1945) is an eminent 20th century ballerina (often referred to as the greatest American lyric ballerina) and the founder of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
She was born as Roberta Sue Ficker in Cincinnati and received her early training at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. In 1960, she was selected to study at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet with a Ford Foundation scholarship; she started there in 1960 and joined the New York City Ballet (NYCB) in 1961.
Early career at NYCB
Initially part of the corps de ballet at NYCB, Farrell soon moved on to dancing featured roles. The first ballet choreographed for her was Passage, now Arcade, by John Taras in 1963. Balanchine first paired her with Jacques d'Amboise to choreograph his Meditation, which debuted in Winter 1963. One of her most notable roles was Dulcinea in Balanchine's Don Quixote, which premiered in May 1965; Balanchine's creation of that ballet was thought[who?] to be a valentine to his newest "muse", and Balanchine performed in the role of Don Quixote on opening night. In 1968, he cast her as the lead in the "Diamonds" section of his three-act plotless ballet Jewels.
She re-scaled many ballets and expanded them to a new level of technique. In 1965, she was promoted to principal dancer. Her first role in her new title was Agon with Arthur Mitchell at the Paris Opera. George Balanchine quickly fell in love with his "alabaster princess" and created many roles for her. Farrell described learning choreography from Balanchine as a collaborative process, saying, "When Mr. B was working on a ballet, something would just spill out of his body; he could rarely duplicate it, so I tried to see precisely what he wanted the first time."
Balanchine was married to the polio-stricken former ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq, however, and Farrell was a Catholic. Though Balanchine divorced LeClerq to pursue Farrell, she instead married fellow dancer Paul Mejia. This caused the relationship of Farrell and Balanchine to be horribly severed. There was nothing but tension between them, and finally Farrell and husband Meja left the company.
She eventually returned to Balanchine and the New York City Ballet in 1975. Balanchine continued to create new ballets for her, such as Chaconne, Mozartiana, Tzigane, and Davidsbundlertanze. Farrell also found herself often paired with the Dane, Peter Martins. Her partnership with Balanchine lasted until his death in April 1983; his last works were solos for Farrell. Farrell retired from the New York City Ballet at age 44 on November 26, 1989. She performed Sophisticated Lady and Vienna Waltzes. Farrell gave her final bow at State Theater with Lincoln Kirstein by her side.
Career as a dance teacher
She had an unusually long performing career for a ballerina. Twenty-eight years of an occupation which takes a tremendous physical toll on the body began to come to an end in 1983. She started to develop arthritis in her right hip and despite two years of varied treatments, by 1985 (at the age of 40), her career on stage was almost over. She struggled for several years but retired from performing in 1989.
She then moved on to passing on the ballets of Balanchine to the next generation of ballet dancers, working with famed companies around the world, such as those in Berlin and Vienna, as well as the Paris Opera Ballet, Kirov Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. In 1993, the New York City Ballet dismissed her from her teaching position with the company. In 2000, Farrell became a professor in the Dance Department at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.
Career at the Kennedy Center
Farrell's engagement with the Kennedy Center began in 1993 and 1994, when the Center offered two series of ballet master classes for students with Farrell. This series provided intermediate-to-advanced level ballet students, ages 13 to 17, an opportunity to study with one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. Due to the uniqueness of Farrell's place in the ballet world and the quality of her teaching, the Kennedy Center expanded the program to a national level in 1995, in order to fulfill the Center's mission to enhance the arts education of America's young people. Farrell’s students learned to "turn up the technicolor in [their] movement", in order to achieve greater amplification in their dancing. This three weeks' long yearly initiative of intense study grew into a full-fledged program, Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell.
In the fall of 1999, Farrell received critical acclaim for the successful Kennedy Center engagement and East Coast tour of Suzanne Farrell Stages the Masters of 20th century Ballet. Following the Kennedy Center's debut, the newly named Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a group of professional dancers hand selected by Farrell, has since performed at the Kennedy Center during engagements in 2001 and 2002, been on an extensive East Coast tour, and returned to the Kennedy Center as part of the 2003–2004 Ballet Season following a seven-week national tour. Suzanne Farrell was selected as one of the five recipients of the 2005 Kennedy Center Honors, one of the highest honors for lifetime artistic achievement.
In 2007, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet formalized the creation of the Balanchine Preservation Initiative. This initiative introduces lost or rarely seen Balanchine works to audiences. As a result, ballets like Ragtime (Balanchine/Stravinsky), Pithoprakta (Balanchine/Xenakis) and Divertimento Brillante (Balanchine/Glinka) were recreated and performed.
Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell is an initiative of the Kennedy Center Education Department and is made possible in part by the U.S. Department of Education and the Kennedy Center Corporate Fund. Additional support is provided by the Margaret Abell Powell Fund. Suzanne Farrell was prominently featured in Balanchine (2004) a documentary about the life of George Balanchine.
Farrell has received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University, among others. She has also been a tenured professor of dance at Florida State University since 2000, and in 2003, she received the National Medal of Arts.
She was celebrated in 2005 at the Kennedy Center Honors as one of the most influential ballerinas of the 20th century. She also was the 2005 recipient of the Capezio Dance Award. Farrell was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2009.
In popular culture
- In Mad Men season 3, Donald Draper becomes involved with his daughter Sally's elementary school teacher, Suzanne Farrell, whom he first saw leading her students in an outdoor maypole dance (in "Love Among the Ruins").
Further reading and viewing
- Suzanne Farrell, Toni Bentley, Holding on to the Air (Summit Books, New York, 1990)
- Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse, a 1996 documentary film
- Suzanne Farrell – Elusive Muse, (Directed by Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson 1990)
- Bentley, Toni (1990). Holding on to the Air. New York: Summit Books.
- "Suzanne Farrell". Retrieved March 3, 2012.
- Fragos, Emily. "Suzanne Farrell", BOMB Magazine, Fall 2003. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- 1-the Air. New York: Summit Books. 1990.
- Dunning, Jennifer (August 4, 1993). "City Ballet Breaks Off Its Long Relationship With Suzanne Farrell". NY Times. Retrieved March 23, 2008.
- "The Suzanne Farrell Ballet". Retrieved August 12, 2012.
- "Mad Men, "Love Among the Ruins": A change is gonna come". What's Alan Watching?.
- "Mad Men, "The Fog": Waiting for my real life to begin". What's Alan Watching?.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Suzanne Farrell.|
- The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
- Archival footage of Suzanne Farrell speaking about Balanchine and technique in 2006 at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
- Archival footage of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet performing Clarinade in 2006 at Jacob's Pillow.
- Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell
- Photos of Suzanne Farrell courtesy of Getty Images
- The Ballerina Gallery – Suzanne Farrell
- Barry M. Horstman (April 19, 1999). "Suzanne Farrell: She shaped new generation of dancers". The Cincinnati Post (E. W. Scripps Company). Archived from the original on May 17, 2007.
- Capezio Dance Award – Suzanne Farrell 2005
- 2003 BOMB Magazine interview of Suzanne Farrell by Emily Fragos