Friday, January 06, 2012

Contemporaries II

Suzanne Farrell during a stage performance of George Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes” in 1977, the year of the ballet’s creation.

Farrell gave her final performance in 1989, choosing “Vienna Waltzes” as her farewell vehicle.

Farrell was Balanchine’s last muse.

Cynthia Gregory in a studio photograph as Raymonda in 1975. American Ballet Theatre mounted a full-length production of Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda” for Gregory that year.

Rudolf Nureyev, who staged ABT’s 1975 “Raymonda”, called Gregory “America’s prima ballerina assoluta”.

Gregory gave her final performance in 1992.

My parents insist that neither ballerina, since retirement, has been superseded by succeeding generations of ballerinas, whether from America or elsewhere. As my father wryly notes, no one in his right mind will be talking about Darcey Bussell, Sylvie Guillem or Kyra Nichols thirty years from now.

Farrell and Gregory were the last of a long line of great ballerinas dating back to the 19th Century, technically superior to all that came before and after, with stage presence and glamour in abundance. Images of Farrell and Gregory performances are burned upon the memories of those who were fortunate enough to have caught them in their primes.

Farrell and Gregory were, quite simply, the apex, unmatched in their greatness, making both their contemporaries and their successors—whether from Britain, Denmark, France or Russia—look inept and plodding (and often faintly ridiculous) in comparison.


  1. Sylvie Guillem has already changed the concept of dancing for generations to come, so with all respect to dancers of former generations I do believe that people will be talking about her and her influence which is imemnse (all dancers worship her and are under her influence like Vishneva, Rojo, Cojocaru, Zakharova, Lopatkina etc). She has already earned her place in history as Plissetkaya did evn if this displeases her detractors.

  2. If the resolutely tawdry Sylvie Guillem is remembered thirty years from now, it will only be because of her vulgarity and her unparalleled ability to turn any ballet into instant kitsch.

    Happily, Americans recognized Guillem’s shortcomings from the very beginning of her career; she was to enjoy limited success in the U.S. In one of Guillem’s first appearances here, the renowned Robert Gottlieb captured Guillem well, writing of her “total lack of sensibility”, among many other things. The even-more-renowned Arlene Croce largely ignored Guillem, rarely so much as mentioning her name. Guillem was, I conclude, beneath Croce’s notice.

    At the end of Guillem’s career, Gottlieb summed up Guillem nicely: “At least the Sylvie Guillem plague that swept over Europe passed us by.”

  3. To each his opinion I guess. But whether you like Guillem or not what matters is that she is still more than present in the dance world and still most creative with a career spanning almost over thirty years now. The fact that some "eminent" critic dislikes her does not make her without any value or someone who will be forgotten. When Callas was at her heyday there were many people disliking her as they do now Guillem since these artists, are revolutionary, they bring something new and welcome to opera or dance, whether some people are willing to admit so or not.
    You can easly try and dismiss Guillem,but on the other hand her achievements still speak for themselves; Just recently she did two new pieces from Forsythe and Killian in London and she is touring around the world and will also probably bring these amazing pieces to Lincoln Center,so her career is not over in the US) and she got rave reviews including from the New York Times. At the end of January 2011 beginnings of February she reprised one of her greatest parts as Manon in MacMillan's ballet at La Scala in Milan and it was a huge triumph. I was there and it was an overwhelming, unforgettable experience. There were even some reviews from people who used to dislike Guillem in the past and they were unanimous in their praise.
    About being famous in the US now or not. There are dancers that are more famous n Europe, Russia, Japan etc and others that are more famous here; This does notmake a dancer better or worse. Guillem still performs in the US and if she does not perform for the American Ballet Theater well there is still a life for a dancer besides the American Ballet Theater or the Royal Ballet or the Paris Opera House. I knowt that the Bolschoi was trying for decades to convinve Guillem to perform there, since Guillem is worshipped in Russia but she always declined.
    So you may not like Sylvie Guillem but I still think that she deserves at least some respect forher career which is unlike any other dancers and her artistic integrity.

  4. May I assume you are Sylvie Guillem? I suspected so after your first comment, and I am even of firmer belief, after your second comment, that you must, indeed, be Guillem herself.

    If you are going to make extravagant if not risible claims, I suggest you explain yourself. For instance, what does “ Guillem changed the concept of dancing for generations to come” mean? And how, exactly, has Guillem “earned her place in history”? And what, precisely, about Guillem’s dancing was “revolutionary”? Such statements, without explication, are utterly meaningless, and belong on billboards.

    Suzanne Farrell was revolutionary—SHE changed the concept of dancing for succeeding generations. Farrell became the model for a new breed of dancer, the so-called “Adagio” dancer, and Farrell’s influence, good or bad, continues to this day—and Farrell certainly earned her place in history with the extraordinary roles George Balanchine created for her, roles that no other dancer has ever been able fully to inhabit. One cannot watch a Farrell role today without noting the many special qualities Farrell possessed, qualities that Balanchine captured so brilliantly in the choreography he created for her. I never saw Farrell dance—but I can spot a Farrell role a million miles away. The woman must have been a goddess.

    In contrast, Guillem was known for her flashiness and her vulgarity, nothing more. She had the equipment of a classical dancer, but the temperament of a livestock auctioneer and the artistry of a longshoreman—which is probably why the two finest dance critics of the post-War period, writing in any language, entirely dismissed her.

    I liken Guillem to Chinese pianist Lang Lang. Lang Lang, with his miraculous fingers, will be popular with the musical public for a period, just as Guillem was popular with the European dance public for a period. Neither figure, however, is remotely the real thing. In both cases, oodles and oodles of showmanship and mountains of attention-grabbing histrionics constitute the goods for sale to the public—but there is no substance and no style beyond surface display. The musical public instinctively understands the difference between a Lang Lang and a Maurizio Pollini, just as the dance public instinctively understands the difference between a Guillem and a Farrell.

    I certainly agree with you on one point: Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” would be the ideal vehicle for Guillem. That is a perfect case of ballet and dancer being made for each other. (And, to complete a happy triumvirate, may I assume that Roberto Bolle danced des Grieux at that La Scala “Manon”?)

  5. No my name is Nakis as I clearly put above and I simply expressed an opinion about Sylvie Guillem whom you obliously do not like. I respect your opinion so you may as well respect mine. I am not trying to convince you to like her or admire her but I simply said she deserves at least some credit for her achivements. After all I believe I am not her only admirer in the world, people like Nureev, Claude Bessy, Forsythe, Mats Ek, Vishneva, Rojo, Cojocaru etc worshipped her so I feel I am in good company. I think in dancing there is a place for Guillem as there is a place for Farrel or Fonteyn, on Forsythe, that is all. I will certainly not try to convinve you about her revolutionary status or her contributions since Iam afraid it will be of no use.

  6. Just also to answer your last comment and question, no it was not Roberto Bolle who danced De Grieux at La Scala but Massimo Murru and they made a magical couple.

  7. You have a forum here to explain why you believe Guillem is a unique artist.

    If you feel so strongly about Guillem as a dancer, I'd make use of it.

  8. Have you seen Keenan Kampa?
    She is the first American signed to the Mariinsky Ballet.