Romantic triangles. Unconsummated passion. Jealousy. Revenge. Just another day offstage at the New York City Ballet for ballerina Suzanne Farrell and her mentor, legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Elusive Muse t... more »races the development of Farrell into an extraordinary performer while trying to define her passionate professional and personal relationship with "Mr. B." (Farrell says dancing with Balanchine was "more passionate, more loving" than a sexual relationship would have been.) Relying heavily on interviews with Farrell and her longtime dance partner, Jacques d'Amboise (who calls her a "goddess" and the "last, great muse for Balanchine"), the film follows her evolution from awestruck student to inspiration--Balanchine created some of his most breathtaking ballets for her, and lengthy footage of them, including "Diamonds" and "Mozartiana," is shown. The story is as tortured as ballet's best: Marriage to another dancer causes their banishment from the company and she's forced to dance in Europe to keep her career alive, but she triumphantly reunites (professionally) with her mentor. While performance footage documents her artistry, interviews with other dancers and choreographers testify to her growing talent and help explain how Mr. B worked. "God sent her to me," he is quoted as saying. Here, the rest of us get to glory in his handiwork. --Valerie J. Nelson« less
"In 1990 Suzanne Farrell, the once-leading ballerina of the New York City Ballet, broke her silence in Elusive Muse, a documentary covering her career and legendary relationship with George Balanchine. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Elusive Muse tells the story through interviews with Farrell and male NYCB dancers who danced with her during her career. If you know anything about NYCB, Suzanne Farrell, or George Balanchine, you probably know that Farrell was Balanchine's muse almost from the very beginning of her days with the company until his death in 1983 (with a 5-year break in the action during the 70s). What Elusive Muse gives us that we haven't seen or heard before is Suzanne's first person telling of her story. The video contains wonderful footage of her taking class, rehearsing, and performing Balanchine's ingenious choreography as well as intimate disclosure about the relationship she shared with "Mr. B." Suzanne shares with us about the emotional threesome between Balanchine, herself, and her mother; the strain the relationship put on her; and the loneliness of her life as the much whispered-about woman at the center of NYCB. She talks about the almost telepathic nature of their relationship (at least through the eyes of a naïve young woman), how their feelings were interwoven throughout the ballets Mr. B created, their way of physically consummating their relationship, her eventual struggles and inability to continue, and how ballet became her "salvation" in the midst of that struggle for this good Catholic girl with very provincial beliefs. Even though Elusive Muse was made in 1990, Farrell is still visibly affected when recalling the events from her time at NYCB with Balanchine, even to the point of tears.Farrell also talks about dancing for Maurice Bejart in Brussels. Bejart repeats what others say about her dancing-that Suzanne had wonderful technical ability and athleticism (she was an acrobat before she was a dancer), but it was her "musicality" and the soulfulness of her dancing that made her such an incredible standout. Indeed, Suzanne Farrell is easily short-listed for the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century.We'll never hear Balanchine's side of the story, though his reticence on the topic may have been more of a determining factor than his death. Farrell has the last word on her relationship with the creative genius, and at the end she tells us "There are no `if onlys' in my life." She shares a remarkable experience she had after Mr. Balanchine's death, an experience that reconfirmed her commitment to dancing.Performance footage: Apollo (in B&W) and Davidsbundlertanze with Jacques d'Amboise; Chaconne and Diamonds with Peter Martins; Romeo and Juliet with Jorge Donn; Concerto Barocco; Scotch Symphony; her final performance in Vienna Waltzes; and an absolutely exquisite Don Quixote with Balanchine in the title role. Her dancing in this piece transcends this world and alone justifies the purchase price of the video. There are many interviews with past dancers of the NYCB including Jacques d'Amboise, Arthur Mitchell, Paul Mejia, and Eddie Villella, as well as Maurice Bejart. Rehearsal footage and stagings include Slaughter on 10th Avenue with Maria Caligari, Tzigane with Isabelle Guerim and the Paris Opera Ballet, and Susan Jaffe in Mozartiana. Lots of wonderful stills as well.If you are a student of ballet history, a lover of NYCB, or a Suzanne Farrell fan, Elusive Muse is a required addition to your video collection, worth far more than its purchase price."
Deborah Brooks | San Francisco, CA United States | 05/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Suzanne Farrell (née Roberta Sue Ficker) was the most influential of George Balanchine's many muses. For years there was an air of secrecy surrounding their personal relationship. In this 1996 documentary, Ms. Farrell finally sheds light on what so many have wondered about for so many years.Farrell's story is revealed through interviews with the dancer herself, her mother, her husband (former New York City Ballet dancer Paul Mejia), former NYCB dancers Jacques D'Amboise, Arthur Mitchell and Edward Villela, and choreographer Maurice Béjart. Glimpses of her childhood in Cincinnati are shown in photos and home movies. She and her ambitious mother describe their move to New York City just before Suzanne's 15th birthday and Suzanne's audition for the School of American Ballet, conducted by Balanchine himself.Farrell joined NYCB at 16. Her major break came at 17, when Diana Adams, then one of Balanchine's muses, got pregnant and stopped dancing, little more than a week before the premiere of "Movements for Piano and Orchestra." Ballet Master John Taras suggested that Farrell replace Adams. Balanchine was unenthusiastic, but said that Adams and principal dancer Jacques d'Amboise could teach her the part if they wanted to. After watching Suzanne in rehearsal, Balanchine declared, "God sent her to me." The rest is history.Between rare clips of rehearsals and early performances, Farrell describes the development of her loving relationship with Balanchine, 42 years her senior, which resulted in a lonely life for her in the ballet company. There was one major problem with their relationship -- Balanchine was married to former muse Tanaquil LeClerq, paralyzed from the waist down by polio. Eventually Farrell found consolation in fellow dancer Paul Mejia. Recounting the repercussions of their marriage, culminating in their leaving NYCB, brings Farrell to tears. After the couple's 5-year sojourn with Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the XXth Century, Farrell, but not Mejia, returned to NYCB, sparking another creative outburst from Balanchine.Suzanne Farrell was a superb dancer. Tall, with a small torso, very long limbs, a small, sleek head and a lovely face, she was a striking figure onstage. But more impressive than her looks were her musicality and inimitable way of moving. To me, she seems to be the embodiment of the music. Understandably, Farrell says that when she stopped dancing, she found herself unable to listen to beautiful music. But she got past this problem when she started her current career -- staging Balanchine's ballets. She is shown in this capacity working with, among others, Paris Opera Ballet's Isabelle Guérin and American Ballet Theatre's Susan Jaffe.Besides providing us with an opportunity to see Suzanne Farrell's exquisite dancing in all phases of her career, directors Anne Belle and Deborah Dicken have created a beautiful and fascinating portrait of a beautiful and fascinating artist and woman.
Prima ballerina assoluta!
Charles S. Houser | Binghamton, NY | 08/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A thoughtful, well-prepared documentary. The right balance of talking heads and archival performance footage. Directors Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson clearly took the time to understand their subject. And Suzanne Farrell's full cooperation with the process is the single most important thing that kept this fascinating film from being one more cliche-ridden, outsider's view of the demented, masochistic world of ballet. Jacques D'Amboise and Arthur Mitchell, as well as Ms Farrell herself, go a long way to disprove the theory that dancers are inarticulate when not moving through space. Their recollections and insights serve as a nice counterbalance to Farrell's emotionally-charged self-assessments. Although much of the film focuses on explicating Farrell's relationship with choreographer George Balanchine (the film's creepiest moment of pathos is when Farrell goes into her bureau drawer and takes out a billet -doux from her mentor and reads it for the camera), ultimately it is Farrell's strength of character and survival instinct that leaves the strongest impression. The final words of the film are hers: "There have been no 'if onlys' for me."Although the DVD has no dynamite extras, it serves as the perfect format for this kind of film. After watching the film all the way through, you're going to want to go back and watch some of the dance sequences over and over."
Portrait of a Beautiful and Wonderful Life
P. Mitsos | Oak Brook, IL | 11/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Overall, the documentary "Suzanne Farrell - Elusive Muse" is a masterpiece. It takes us from her childhood in Cincinnati through her move with her mother to New York City to her audition for Mr. B, and on to both her first and second tenures with the NYC Ballet and her stay in Brussels with Maurice Bejart in between from the late 60's through about '74. The interviews with Paul Mejia, her former husband; Maurice Bejart, Jacques d'Amboise, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, her own mother, and of course Suzanne Farrell herself were so honest, insightful, and very poignant. D'Ambroise was quite correct in characterizing her performance in Don Quixote as "demonic"...but then clarifying his description by saying that during her performance, she appeared to have been possessed not really by a demon but by a goddess. She truly became the music, combining impeccable technique with transcendent, poetic and musical interpretation. The mounting agony Ms. Farrell recounts in describing the night she ultimately decided to leave Mr. B's company the first time, coupled with both her and her own mother's admission that her "stage" mother really would have preferred that she remain alone, and not marry Paul Mejia for fear of antagonizing Mr. B, is very touching, and one can't help but be completely empathetic with her predicament at that point in her life.
Watching her walk along the Seine recounting her first trip to Paris as a performer at the age of 19, during which time she enjoyed many quiet walks throughout the city with Balanchine, brought back too many memories of my own junior year abroad in Paris. But unlike her, I occasionally have some "if only's" in my life today, including one in which I sometimes wish that I had remained in Paris beyond one year to further pursue studies and a career in opera. Marketing won out...but that's an aside.
The only shortcoming of this documentary is that more of her performances should have been showcased! Though a very good cross-section of stills, her rehearsals, her performances, and her role as teacher is portrayed, I craved more! Therefore, a note to the directors, archivists, and anyone else who may have access to more of her on film: please create a compilation of all her performances available on DVD.
The ending is wonderful (and I won't give it away, though others have already quoted her), but I would make a sequel, if you will, to portray her life today, as teacher, choreographer, and founder of her own company. (This sequel should accompany the requested separate DVD of all of her rehearsals and performances). I would also like to find out why she and Paul Mejia split up (in 1997), if they would care to share.
Listening to the glorious music alone transports me to another level, as does the story that so artfully unfolds. But of course, to see her dancing draws me into a completely beautiful, idyllic world that I never want to leave. And for that reason, I watch the film fairly regularly. In the end, this documentary is a completely moving, honest portrait of a beautiful, intelligent, articulate, compassionate and very gifted artist who led a wonderful, passionate, and very charmed life."
What a treat !
music lover | Chicago | 11/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am only marginally knowledgeable about ballet, having seen fewer than a dozen NYCB and ABT performances primarily to hear the music (e.g., The Four Temperaments). I don't even know why I decided to purchase this DVD, but I'm so glad I did ! I found it completely engrossing, and now I'm driven to explore ballet further. There is amazing footage, but it was the Don Quixote clips which brought tears to my eyes, the music, choreography, and execution were so lovely. Farrell's Don Q solo is absolutely stunning ! I highly recommend this DVD to anyone who has even the slightest interest in ballet."