Suzanne Farrell, a Muse Who Never Failed to Amaze

Farrell, who directs an eponymous company based here, is one of this year's recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Farrell, who directs an eponymous company based here, is one of this year's recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Of Suzanne Farrell, the famed Belgian choreographer Maurice Bejart once said, his French accent caressing the words, "She is like a violin -- the music come out of that body." Indeed, she was a prima ballerina of supreme lyricism, long of limb and sensitive of soul, a dancer of daring, a dancer for whom music was everything. And when she left his company, Bejart wept. But he understood. It had to be. He always knew that she belonged with -- or was it to ? -- George Balanchine.

Long hailed as this country's greatest dancer, Farrell was the ultimate muse, the muse of a Russian man who created American ballet, a muse for whom, in the act of creation, grand, complicated passions were formed. For her, Balanchine crafted ballets, almost two dozen of them: "Don Quixote," "Meditation," "Vienna Waltzes," "Jewels." And for him, she danced as no one ever had and no one ever will.

Balanchine was so captivated by her that in 1982, when his health was failing, he revised a solo for her, "Elegy," a ballet of mourning and loss. Sixteen years earlier when he had originally choreographed the piece, he'd requested that she perform it at his funeral.

After the choreographer died, the dancer's hips gave out, first one and then the other, replaced by plastic devices that force Farrell to forge straight ahead where her feet once aimed sideways, in the ballet dancer's trademark turnout.

Time changed everything. She had to, as she once put it, "un-become a dancer." Become someone else in order to create a life rooted in the present, a place where she'd much rather live, even though her eyes water when she talks about what once was.

"I live in the now," Farrell says. "You go where you're wanted, and you go where the now takes you. . . . You only have the breath you're taking. It's ungrateful to wish you were breathing somewhere else."

Today, her now is focused on directing the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a Washington-based, part-time company dedicated to passing on the choreographic legacy of the great, chaste love of her life.

"I had my time," she says in her soft voice. "Now it's somebody else's."

It's her time, too. At 60, after more than 2,000 performances with the New York City Ballet (and a few hundred with the Bejart Ballet), the dancer who now directs will receive the Kennedy Center Honors tonight, right across the street from the apartment she calls home.

Her only regret?

"I'm sorry that it took so long to get back with my mother and Mr. B," she says, referring to her five-year exile from the New York City Ballet, during which time she danced with the Bejart Ballet and brought on the wrath of her mother, who wanted her to remain associated with Balanchine, onstage and off.

"Had I known that Mr. B would die so soon . . . The important thing is we did get back together again."

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