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If you like Suzanne Farrell's story, you might also like:
Dorothy Hamill,
Jessye Norman,
Trevor Nunn,
Lloyd Richards,
Twyla Tharp and
Kiri Te Kanawa

Suzanne Farrell also appears in the video:
Passion, Creativity and the Arts: A Mirror on Society

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Suzanne Farrell in the Achievement Curriculum section:
From Dance to Drama

Related Links:
Farrell Balllet
Dance Heritage
Kennedy Center
Balanchine Trust

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Suzanne Farrell
Suzanne Farrell
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Suzanne Farrell Interview (page: 5 / 5)

Ballerina Extraordinaire

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  Suzanne Farrell

All dancers have to overcome problems and injuries, and you have had your share, in particular a serious one with your hip.

Suzanne Farrell: By the time I admitted that I needed a hip operation, I had denied it for so long that it was a breakthrough to suddenly say, " I need this." I knew I would probably never dance again, but I had no choice. By that time, I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to walk down the street without limping. I couldn't tie my shoes. I couldn't put slacks on. I was the farthest thing from a person who ever could dance and do all those extensions and contortions that we do.

I had no choice and so I had the operation. I was very happy when I went in, and happy when I came out. Because suddenly I saw that I would live my life, instead of watch it go by, which was the way it had become lately in that situation. And so, of course, the doctor said I would never dance again. But I wanted to. But I didn't think about dancing again, I just thought about getting well. I put all my energies into the moment that I was now living in, and that was getting well. And I thought, if God wanted me to dance, He will let me dance.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

As it happened, it was a long process, and slow, and interesting if not as fast-paced as the kind of life I was used to living. Finally I got back on my feet, and I was walking. People were curious to know what was going to happen to me now. I was giving a little speech, which was the first time I publicly admitted what had happened to me, and the reason why I was speaking was because I was a dancer, but I was speaking as a person who may never dance again.

One of the hardest things that I ever had to do was to be in a situation where I suddenly didn't have any real control or any of the stability or security that I had always with the dancing. But I had just recently gotten off crutches and I was determined to walk up to this platform and give this speech, in high heels, even if I was slightly listing to one side, and tell these people about what it was like to be a dancer. And what it was like to be a dancer who couldn't dance any more. And I remember I started to cry because, first of all, I wanted to make my point. I could be admired as a dancer, but I also wanted to be admired as a person. And I said to them that I had to work very hard to become a dancer, but now I had to work even harder to get back any little thing, just to be able to walk, let alone dance.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

I wasn't embarrassed by that. It didn't really matter. I would be the best that I could be with what I had. If I didn't dance, I hoped that I would have the conviction and the moral commitment and the courage to let go of something that I couldn't do any longer, and to do the best that I could do with what I had. I think that was very important for me to say.

And it works. I tell my students, "The act of thinking about something is almost doing it." If you think positively that you can do it, you are already closer than if you didn't even try to do it. I think it was a big step for me. Consequently, I did get back onstage. I did dance again. In a different capacity, and not with the range of motion that I had, but I got back onstage. Not to prove a point, not to be some sort of oddity, or hero, but because I wanted to quit myself.

I had felt that I sort of had the rug pulled out from underneath me by my hip, and that I also knew that I would be better if I had a goal to reach. I didn't care really, whether I ever got out onstage again, I only knew that I had to try. That I would be unhappy, I would be unhappy if I didn't try, but I would not be unhappy if I tried and failed. And so, that was my impetus to get out on stage again and to dance again, was to see, was to have a goal.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What do you hope to achieve in the future? What do you look forward to?

Suzanne Farrell Interview Photo
Suzanne Farrell: Working. I am a worker, and the more I am doing, the better I am. The less you do, the less you want to do. I have to satisfy my physical capacity as well as my emotional capacity, and in a way it is like starting over again. I feel I've done it, but now I'm doing it again because I like to teach, and I'm happy doing that. I find people fascinating. No two people are alike. I have to find their problems so that I can teach them. You don't just teach somebody how to dance. They can dance or they can't, but you have to find out what their dilemma is, so that you can teach for them, so they can become better. You have sort of a problem on top of a problem. I enjoy staging ballets. I love the theater, so I wouldn't mind trying some drama. I'm open to suggestions. I'm sure the next forty years of my life will be as exciting as the last forty, but they are not as clear right now, as when I was a dancer. But, anything can happen. I believe in mystery, and miracles. I just know I have to be working.

Your relationship with cats has not gone unnoticed. And your papier-mache cat, that I understand you have taken to performances all over the world. What is this?

Suzanne Farrell: His name is Mr. Lucky. I named him Mr. Lucky in 1960. In Cincinnati, my best friend and I pricked our fingers and mixed our blood. We were blood sisters, and we sealed this friendship for life. She made this cat for me before I came to New York to audition. It was a cute little black cat with ears. Anyway, this was my good luck piece-my talisman. He has been with me all over the world, always on my dressing table. He has lost both his ears, he has not much of a face, but he has always been there with me. And then I have of course other cats.

You seem to have an affinity with cats.

Suzanne Farrell: It started out like that because Balanchine liked cats. He had what he thought was the most famous, talented cat that could jump. I was doing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is where, as in Shakespeare, she falls asleep, and then wakes up in this dream and she is in love with Bottom the Weaver, who has been transformed by magic into a donkey. She wakes up and she loves him. I was only 17 or 18, and I didn't have quite the right quality that Mr. Balanchine wanted for this part. I mean, how many people dance with a donkey?

Suzanne Farrell Interview Photo
He said at the end of rehearsal, "Don't you have an animal at home that you talk to, or someone that you love and play with?" And I said, "No, Mr. Balanchine". And he said "Oh, that's too bad, I have a wonderful little cat, and he is a great jumper and cats are very interesting." So I went home that evening with my school books, and stopped at the delicatessen. You know, every New York deli has at least one cat. This cat had kittens, so I asked the owner if I could buy one. He said "No, you can have one." So I took one, and brought her home and named her Bottom, and started practicing on this cat, that quality that he wanted. That was the beginning of my cats. At one time I had perhaps ten cats. But she was my best friend. We grew up together. She was the one I confided in when I didn't have any friends in the company. Next to God, this cat knew more about me than anybody. She was really wonderful. When she thought I was on the right track, she would sit there and purr and listen to me, and when she thought I was wrong, she would go hiiissssss. She would spit at me. She was very human.

Have you had to sacrifice a personal life in order to achieve these career successes. Have you been able to balance a professional life and a personal life? How do you look back on that?

Suzanne Farrell Interview Photo
Suzanne Farrell: I think, far from ballet eating into your life and not allowing you to have a life, I think it has given me a better quality of life. It has helped me to be much more balanced, I think, that I would have been without it. I don't feel the things I have given up. I probably wouldn't have wanted them anyway. It was a choice. I am consumed with my work. It doesn't consume me. It fills me with a great feeling of who I am and what I want to do. I think there is a timing for everything. I think you can have everything in life that you want, but not all at the same time.

True. Thank you. You were wonderful.

Thank you.

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This page last revised on Nov 30, 2007 03:45 EDT
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