The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘George Balanchine’

Mystique in Spades

September 14, 2016 | by

Suzanne Farrell revives a rare Balanchine ballet. 


Balanchine rehearsing the original production of Gounod with Maria Tallchief.

“Make the tempo be your pulse.” This remark by Suzanne Farrell—at a lecture/demo this past Sunday at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts—was both an instruction and a philosophy. Farrell, who was George Balanchine’s last great muse and is now, among other things, the artistic director of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, was there to stage an early rehearsal of one movement from a Balanchine work she’s reviving this fall and to answer questions about bringing lost works back into repertory.

Gounod Symphony was not lost, exactly. Made during the Wanderjahr period of late 1957 and early 1958, when Balanchine returned to his company after having left to nurse his polio-stricken wife and prima ballerina, Tanaquil LeClercq, it has languished compared to the other masterpieces he spun out in such short order: Agon, Square Dance, Stars and Stripes. It fell out of repertory, is rarely performed, and never caught on as an audience favorite, although critics have always been captivated and intrigued. What relation does it bear to its three magnificent counterparts, all so modern, so innovative, so American? What relation to Bizet, as it’s nicknamed, Balanchine’s eternally popular Symphony in C of 1947, his other large-scale tribute to Paris Opera Ballet? What to his other “French” ballets? Was it beyond the company’s performance abilities when it was made? And for audiences, not showy enough? Too restrained, raffinée? Whatever it hasn’t, Gounod certainly has mystique in spades. Read More »

American Girl Night

August 3, 2016 | by

Photo: Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

No one could miss the magic. Cool alleys of giant pines wind through the park, the entrance by footbridge leads over a creek; far below, you can glimpse striated mounds accreted by live mineral springs. And then: the stately grounds. Even today, in its celebratory fiftieth-anniversary season, with a new plaza built around stadium-size latrines and concessions selling fried dough, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center maintains some of its Nelson-and-Happy Rockefeller–era allure. The center was built to offer New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra permanent summer residencies, and though attendance at dance events and the dance season itself have shrunk considerably over the past thirty years, coming to SPAC still feels eventful. The audience is filled with fans. They dress for the occasion. They know the performers. They roar with recognition when someone introduces the evening’s program. They cheer during curtain calls. They applaud, contrary to City Ballet’s urban custom, when dancers exit, and at the end of each musical section. They even clap for the scenery. Read More »

A Whale in Her Own Ocean

May 12, 2015 | by

Suzanne Farrell at the New York Public Library.

Farrell and Balanchine in Don Quixote, 1964.

Suzanne Farrell—the ballerina who was George Balanchine’s last and arguably greatest muse—appears tonight at the New York Public Library’s Live! series, cosponsored by NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts. If you’d like to go, don’t—the event was a harder ticket than Hamilton, which the Wall Street Journal called “the buzziest show of the spring.”

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, well, everything you need to know about Farrell, now sixty-nine, you can learn from the essays of Arlene Croce, whose own great muse was Balanchine and his New York City Ballet, and whose unassailable writings on dance appeared in the pages of The New Yorker for twenty-five years. Croce says about Farrell in Diamonds, the third act of Balanchine’s Jewels: Read More »

What We’re Loving: Being Stranded, Being Stoned, Krumping

February 7, 2014 | by


Promotional still from Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No

When you grow up in Los Angeles with divorced parents, you’re always getting stranded somewhere, usually in your own home. This particular conundrum, unique to the geography of LA, is novelized in Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other, a loosely fictionalized account of his sordid childhood in mid-century Hollywood, published in 1978. O’Brien is the only son of two fading film stars, whom he is burdened to babysit. Like all proper LA novels, this one has Malibu, western stars, prostitutes, “screenplay ideas,” Mexican food. But what I was most struck by was O’Brien’s portrait of the LA child as a captive audience. As our protagonist more somberly puts it: “My jailer had forgotten what I was in for but he wanted to keep me there for company.” That is what happens when you are stranded. Parents confide in you, and not just your own parents—anyone’s parents, perhaps because they truly are seeking decent advice, or maybe just because you’re the only other soul they’ve encountered that day. Our hero learns all the right coping mechanisms: make friends with the kid that has a car, play your parents against each other, move in with a nice Jewish producer who has more rooms in his house then he knows what to do with, and then try desperately to convince someone to love you, or at the very least to sleep with you. —Hailey Gates

Ever heard the story of MLB pitcher Dock Ellis’s having thrown a “no-no” in 1970 while he was as high (on LSD) “as a Georgia pine?” Well, now you have. —Stephen Hiltner

Earlier this week, on a flight from the Midwest to the East Coast, I read William Morris’s lecture “The Lesser Arts” to distract myself from the ear-popping, the altitude, and the beginnings of a cold. It’s Morris at his philosophical best: a manifesto on the use and value of the decorative arts, speaking against the notion that they’re somehow “lesser” than other fine arts. “Everything made by man’s hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly,” spoke Morris, “beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her … the hand of the craftsman is guided to work in the way that she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain flint.” As I engaged with the text, the interior of the plane—with its many small miracles of engineering packaged in just as many sins of design—felt more and more like a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. To Morris, even late-nineteenth century London was an abomination of ugliness: “a whole country or more covered over with hideous hovels, big, middle-sized, and little.” One can only wonder what he would think of 2014 London—or, for that matter, New York City. —Clare Fentress

A few weeks ago, when I wrote briefly about Howard Moss, Lorin recommended “Ménage à Trois,” a poem Moss published in The New Yorker in 1969. (Subscribers can read it here.) You might expect, given the title, a bit of titillation—but this is Moss, and his is a household of jaded appetites. Wry, unforgiving, and larded with tart apercus, the poem tells of a trio on a harrowingly dull vacation: “The food is dreadful. The weather worse./ So much for all the touted joys/ Of the Riviera—or wherever we are.” That kind of weariness pervades, and charges, the whole thing. Moss’s exhaustion makes for oddly buoyant verse, and you have to admire the verbal precision behind his contempt: “We provide pornography/ (mental) for the neighbors, who watch our blinds/ As if they were about to disclose an orgy.” That disclose is spot-on. As we approach the treacle-fest that is Valentine’s Day, a ménage as loveless as Moss’s is a fitting aperitif: bitter, but stimulating. “A little citrus kiss,” to borrow a turn from the poem. —Dan Piepenbring Read More »


Jacques d’Amboise on ‘I Was a Dancer’

March 8, 2011 | by

Jacques d'Amboise of the New York City Ballet, 1963. Photograph by John Dominis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Jacques d’Amboise, born Joseph Jacques Ahearn in 1934, began his dance training at the age of seven with Madame Seda in Washington Heights. Within a year, he was hopping on the subway to the School of American Ballet, the feeder school for the fledging company started by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. By the age of fifteen, he had joined the New York City Ballet, and by seventeen, he had dropped out of high school and become a soloist. For the next three decades, d’Amboise partnered with some of the most exquisite ballerinas of the day, and as Balanchine’s protégé, he had numerous ballets made specifically for him. Critics hailed him as “the definitive Apollo,” a role that he claims changed his life. He was also known for his wildly exuberant screen presence, most notably as Ephraim in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the Starlight Carnival barker in Carousel.

As his dancing career was winding down, d’Amboise embarked on a spectacular second act: founding the National Dance Institute in 1976, a program that brings ballet into public schools around the country through classes, residencies, and performances—all for free. His memoir, I Was a Dancer, published this month, recalls his seven decades of dance. Although d’Amboise says he is slowing down, the evidence suggests otherwise: as we sat over cups of café au lait in SoHo, he felt compelled to rise from the table to demonstrate a particular sequence of ballet steps. The other patrons were as surprised—and delighted—as I was.

Where did your mother get the idea that you should study dance?

She never finished elementary school, but at home, everybody read books. Especially French books: Victor Hugo, Maupassant, Dumas. She always dreamed that she would be an actress, in drama, and that educated her: she’d dance, recite poetry, use beautiful words, speak French, and act and sing. And her dream was that all her children would be brought up that way.
And it came true!

It did—for three of us. In the early days of New York City Ballet Society, we were all in. My sister stopped because she married the company doctor and she was quarter ballet girl. She had a minor solo once in a while but nothing really. I think I did my solo before I was seventeen and I was doing principal roles while I was still quarter ballet. And Freddie Ashton came to the U.S. and did a ballet for me, and then I did my first movie. I turned eighteen on the set. I just did what I wanted and had everything given to me. And in a way that was why I started National Dance Institute: I never had to audition for anything; I never had to pay for a dance class.

Read More »



July 19, 2010 | by

It’s the queers who made me. Who sat with me in the automobile in the dead of night and measured the content of my character without even looking at my face. Who – in the same car – asked me to apply a little strawberry lip balm to my lips before the anxious kiss that was fraught because would it be for an eternity, benday dots making up the hearts and flowers? Who sat on the toilet seat, panties around her ankles, talking and talking, girl talk burrowing through the partially closed bathroom door and, boy, was it something. Who listened to opera. Who imitated Jessye Norman’s locutions on and off the stage. Who made love in a Queens apartment and who wanted me to watch them making love while at least one of those so joined watched me, dressed, per that person’s instructions, in my now dead aunt’s little-girl nightie. Who wore shoes with no socks in the dead of winter, intrepid, and then, before you knew it, was incapable of wiping his own ass—“gay cancer.” Who died in a fire in an apartment in Paris. Who gave me a Raymond Radiguet novel when I was barely older than Radiguet was when he died, at twenty, of typhoid. Who sat with me in his automobile and talked to me about faith—he sat in the front seat, I in the back—and I was looking at the folds in his scalp when cops surrounded the car with flashlights and guns: they said we looked suspicious, we were aware that we looked and felt like no one else.

It’s the queers who made me. Who introduced me to Edwin Denby’s writings, and George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” and got me writing for Ballet Review. Who wore red suspenders and a Trotsky button; I had never met anyone who dressed so stylishly who wasn’t black or Jewish. Who, even though I was “alone,” watched me as I danced to Cindy Wilson singing “Give Me Back My Man,” in the basement of a house that my mother shared with her sister in Atlanta. Who took me to Paris. Who let me share his bed in Paris. Who told my mother that I would be O.K., and I hope she believed him. Who was delighted to include one of my sisters in a night out—she wore a pink prom dress and did the Electric Slide, surrounded by gay boys and fuck knows if she cared or saw the difference between herself and them—and he stood by my side as I watched my sister dance in her pink prom dress, and then he asked what I was thinking about, and I said, “I’m just remembering why I’m gay.” Read More »