Suzanne Farrell: Stay Out of Your Comfort Zone

When you work on a new dance you are called upon to make a new world, to make something from nothing, said Suzanne Farrell, speaking after her ballet company performed works by George Balanchine at McCarter earlier this month. In the photo she is flanked, on the left, by New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella and, on the right, by Simon Morrison, professor of music at Princeton. On the program were Balanchine works set to Mozart, Stravinsky, and Morton Gould. The latter, “Clarinade,” had been set on Farrell when she was just 18.

I’ve tried to transcribe Farrell’s post performance conversation here, or if you can’t see that, try this google doc, but this is not the final version. I’m hoping others — including Acocella, Farrell, or Morrison — can correct or add to this document.

A Princeton connection: Erin Mahoney, who trained at the Princeton Ballet School and with ARB, danced with Farrell’s company in 2004 and was reviewed by John Rockwell in “Clarinade” in 2004.

“I call Mr. B’s ballets ‘worlds.’ At first they feel foreign. You have never been there before,” said Farrell. “It takes a certain amount of inner resources not to fall back on what you have done before, not to paint the choreographer into a corner where you are comfortable. “

Sounds like risk management to me. Entire libraries have been written about that, and here a dancer is saying don’t manage risk. To be creative yourself, to put yourself at the service of a creative person’s ideas, don’t manage risk, take the dangerous chance.

That’s as scary an idea for a writer as it is for a dancer. (You mean I can’t just dish out a new version of Article Template B? I have to start fresh each time? Sounds like lots of work.)

Farrell made her challenge even more difficult: “Dancers need to rehearse different options of how it looks, different options to have in their arsenal of memory. They need to live in the moment, and if something unexpected happens, be ready to take the challenge.”

Live in the moment? That’s another truism that is easier said than done.

Both concepts — taking risks, living in the moment — are crucial to learning how to be creative. Both can be learned by dancing.

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