George Balanchine’s last great muse was ballerina Suzanne Farrell. Balanchine was already in his 50’s when he made the teenager a star of the New York City Ballet, making several of his famous ballets on her. But their relationship was complex. Balanchine was clearly in love with Farrell, as he was his previous muses, whom he married. At the time, he was still married to Tanaquil LeClerc, who became wheelchair bound as a result of contracting polio when she was 27.
I enjoyed Farrell’s autobiography, but she never does say if her relationship with Balanchine crossed that sexual line. Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t. But when she chose to marry a fellow dancer, George Balanchine decided to punish her by firing them both. They found it difficult to find work because no American ballet company wanted to risk Balanchine’s ire. Eventually the couple was offered work in Belgium with Maurice Bejart, where they stayed for a number of years until Ms. Farrell returned to New York, asking Mr. B. for her job back. He agreed, but would not hire her husband.
Given today’s sexual harassment/abuse climate has reached into the ballet world (Peter Martins was forced to give up his post as Balanchine’s successor), this book was especially interesting to me. I found it sad that such a young girl had to struggle with the complexities of such a relationship with no support. Her family wanted her to do whatever Balanchine said – they considered the job more important. Her fellow dancers disliked her out of jealousy for the attention Mr. B gave her. To top it off, she genuinely adored Balanchine and didn’t want to hurt him. She was just too young to understand what anyone looking at his attentions today would know – that his demands upon her were completely inappropriate.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1990
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