At the age of 16 she joined the New York City Ballet and soon became a principal dancer. 50 years later she's the artistic director of her own ballet company and stages performances all over the world. "People have betrayed me but ballet hasn't," smiles Suzanne Farrell, who is to be envied not only for her prominent career, but also for her vital energy and enthusiasm.
Suzanne Farrell was one of the most celebrated principal dancers and a muse of the famous choreographer George Balanchine. He created some of his best works, such as Diamonds and Don Quixote, especially for her. During her almost 30-year career she performed 75 roles in 70 ballets. At present she runs the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, hailed by the chief dance critic of The New York Times in 2007 as "one of the most courageous projects in ballet today."
Suzanne Farrell was in Bulgaria for the Balanchine and Farrell: American Ballet for Bulgaria programme, which is a part of the Ballet Across the World Project. The project is an initiative of Cultural Bridges Association in a partnership with America for Bulgaria Foundation and Sofia Opera and Ballet. Suzanne Farrell is presenting two of Balanchine's works – Agon and Divertimento Brillante – at the National Opera and Ballet in Sofia and holding master classes for Bulgarian professional ballet dancers.
What are your impressions of Bulgaria so far?
I love the beautiful churches, but I spend most of the time at the studio. It's a wonderful life. It's nice to go all over the world and be at the studio. You have travelled a lot.
Is there any place you always like to return to?
The studio. I grew up there. It is a nice place, if you want to be a dancer. It's like our food. You must be that kind of person, it is something of a calling. But you always have a choice.
Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her role in Black Swan. Is the real life of a ballet dancer similar to what was in the movie?
I haven't seen that movie, but from the little parts I saw – it was not my life. Our life is much more interesting than that. It is demanding but not sad. You have to be happy and positive to do something beautiful on stage.
You started your career at quite an early age. Was that a tough thing to do?
It is a process. We didn't have videos then. So I was told to watch ballet and I watched. And I had it in my brain already – what I wanted to do. I would go to the studio and work by myself, not only at rehearsals. It is an individual work.
What comes first: talent or hard work?
The determination to be willing. You can be the best dancer in the world, but you have to be quick at learning: if you are slow, you can't do it. And it matters how you define talent. We think we know what we can do, but we don't know all that we can. You have to take risks. When you come to ballet you want it to be spontaneous. Yes, we rehearse, but each night is different from the next. You come and see something and the next evening it is something entirely different. Aren't we lucky to be dancers?
Was there an event or a person that changed your life completely?
Balanchine, of course, changed my life. And also Stravinsky. I danced for him personally at that time when he was Mr Balanchine's manager. He was the only one to watch me on stage. And that was incredible. Everyone gets opportunities but when they come, you have to be ready. Some people say "No, I'm not ready," but you have to say "Yes." But for me work was fun, people have betrayed me, but ballet hasn't.
What was the hardest moment in your career?
I don't think there was any such moment. I am a happy person. It takes a lot of energy to be sad and angry. As a dancer you don't have that kind of energy to throw away. It is too exhausting. You can't be negative and do a positive thing. You can't be passive in an active profession. Now that I have retired from performing, I work with young dancers, they give me energy, it makes me happy. It was easier being a dancer, though, because you only had to dance. Being a director is harder, you work with many people, you have to watch out for everything. You have to be skilled to make the whole performance happen without any disasters.