The Balanchine Archive
An Interview with Nancy Reynolds (byAlexandra Tomalonis)
Ballet Alert Number 1, October 1997
Editors Note: One of the
best things thats happened to American ballet in the past
decade is the George Balanchine Foundations efforts to
retrieve and preserve Balanchines choreography and approach
to choreography. The impetus for the project came from writer
and former NYCB dancer Nancy Reynolds (author of the invaluable
Repertory in Review, among other books), who not only made an
endowment to the Foundation in 1993 to make the project possible,
but serves as Director of Research for the Foundation. We talked
to Reynolds about her work, what shes done and what shes
Nancy Reynolds: At the moment,
there are two projects: the Archive of Lost Choreography and
the Interpreters Archive. The Lost Choreography archive
is the easiest to explain, in that I am attempting, where possible
and practical and not too silly, to retrieve Balanchine choreography
that is out of the current repertory and in danger of becoming
lost. My notion was not to revive these ballets for performance.
Im not sure that it would be possible, and even if it were,
Im not a ballet company. Instead, often its a little
jewel of a solo that might be recovered, and not the whole ballet.
I have two people whove been
working on that. One was Dame Alicia Markova, who brought back
a solo from the Song of the Nightingale in 1926, which
I believe had not been danced since 1929. And the other is Freddie
Franklin, who is, of course, very famous for doing this kind
of thing, and was rehearsal master at the Ballet Russe. Hes
got a fantastic memory. What hes worked on so far is the
two pas de deux from Le Baiser de la fee, the ballet that
was done originally in 1937--not to be confused with the one
in 1972. And then he dug up, shall we say, a solo that
was in the Raymonda of the Ballet Russe that I didnt
know anything about. That work didnt last too long in the
repertory, and there arent very many reviews.
This solo was done actually for Franklin himself,
and was not done when he didnt do it, and it disappeared.
Anyway, he did that with Nikolaj Hubbe. Its a semicharacter
classical part which was perfect for Nikolaj. Plenty of classical
choreography, but with a vaguely Hungarian touch.
Im hoping hell do more; were
talking about various things. And I hope Dame Alicia will do
something else. She was fabulous. She chose her own dancer. She
said, I have to find someone like me. Its so hard. The
sixteen-year-old Patty McBride would have been perfect, because
at that time she was all legs and arms, and she could do the
most astounding things. This role calls for some double sauts
de basque, and some other things that the average dancer just
Q: And Markova was very young when
it was choreographed.
Reynolds: Oh, she was fourteen.
Anyway, she found a lovely girl, who I dont think was too
much like her, but she was very small and very nice, and it was
good to start with someone who wasnt a, quote, "Balanchine
dancer," because one of the ideas behind this project, Im
hoping, is to show that Balanchine is not exclusively danced
at the New York City Ballet, that theyre not the only ones
who can do it. And I thought to start with Markova, who was not
greatly associated with Balanchine, was terrific.
So thats the Archive of Lost Choreography.
The idea for the Interpreters Archive
was to capture on videotape the dancers who had worked directly
with Balanchine in the creation of a role. And this, it seemed
to some, had a twofold goal. One was to get closer to Balanchines
creative process, and the other was to glean from these original
creators what he might have had on his mind at the first. We
know very well that he, himself, often changed roles and that
theirs is not necessarily the definitive interpretation, but
its got to have some importance, because he selected these
The idea of filming them teaching the roles
was partly to get away from the talking head format, and also
to have them lose themselves in the teaching process. The off-the-cuff
remarks when theyre attempting to get more out of a dancer
are something that you wouldnt get from an interview.
So the goal, which I tell them, is to set
the choreography on a dancer as closely as you can remember as
it was set on you. Ive done a lot of work with Maria Tallchief,
and she says, "Well, but its not like that any more."
I said, "Look. Just for this project, I want it to be as
close as possible as to what you did," in the full knowledge
that maybe this has been changed, either by accident or design.
I also have done some taping with Patricia
Wilde, with Marie Jeanne, on whom he did Concerto Barocco,
Ballet Imperial, and the Russian dance from Serenade.
And I just completed Todd Bolender coaching the Phlegmatic variation
from Four Temperaments.
Q: It sounds like fun.
Reynolds: The shooting is wonderful,
because these older dancers are just fabulous, with their memories,
and their devotion, and their interest in getting it right. Theyre
Q: Do you think the young dancers
have caught something from this?
Reynolds: I think so. Now, were
very careful to say that were not coaching their variation
for performance today because they may well have been taught
something different. But they are, of course, very interested
in coming in contact with these rather legendary people. Someone
like a Maria Tallchief has a lot to say about what Balanchine
did, what he wanted. And yes. I think theyre very much
influenced by it, and theyre certainly inspired by it,
and honored to have her expend that much attention and that much
time on them.
Q: You mentioned that you hoped
to show that Balanchine can be danced by people other than the
New City Ballet. Could you talk about that?
Reynolds: Im very interested
in not having it be a New York City Ballet hot house type of
thing--although we often use New York City Ballet dancers, who
are fabulous. But yes. Weve done some taping in Pittsburgh.
Of course, we started with Dame Alicia in London, and we were
recently in Fort Worth, Texas. I let the coach choose everything,
really, the repertoire, the dancers, and what have you, and two
of Maria Tallchiefs former pupils were dancing in Fort
Worth, which is why we went there. And, of course, they have
quite an extensive Balanchine rep there.
Q: Does Balanchine look like Balanchine
in all of these places?
Reynolds: I think so. Maria Tallchief
does teach the way she did it, and that doesnt look exactly
like what we see today. So I think its more a time thing
than a geography thing.
Q: What are you planning next?
Reynolds: I definitely want to
get some more men on board. I was very happy to get Todd and
Freddie. I didnt want it to be just Balanchines women.
There are plenty of Balanchine men, and I want to make a big
effort to include them.
Q: How far back have you gone?
Reynolds: Marias stuff is
all 40s and 50s, and I hope to get to many, many
other generations. Certainly a prime candidate would be Melissa
Hayden, Jacques DAmboise, et cetera, and then on up to
the present. People ask me all the time why I havent gotten
to Suzanne [Farrell]. Suzanne and I have talked about it, and
Ive said, "Look. Im dying to do something with
you, but"--and she understood perfectly. Allegra [Kent]
and people like that have expressed an interest in participating.
Of course, Im very interested in them. But I just figure
theyll be around for awhile.
Q: What do you do when you have
a conflict, where you have two different versions?
Reynolds: I havent got the
capability to pass any judgments. I simply have to take what
they say, and say, "This is what so-and-so says." We
did have a case, with Baiser de la fee, where we had three
ballet masters, and they all remembered differently. There was
this little argument about certain passages.
One of the things I should say, which is quite
interesting, is that with Baiser and some other ballets,
there are snatches of old film. But thats very tricky,
because the old films were about a minute or a minute-and-a-half
long per reel. And so the photographer was constantly having
to change film, and while that happened, people would continue
to do steps. So it looks like they did, say, four chaine turns,
and in fact, they did eight. But with splicing, you dont
see where the stop is So being a slavish imitator of old films
is absolutely the road to incorrectness.
Q: Who do you hope will be the
viewers of these films, and what do you hope they will see?
Reynolds: I think people who are
doing the roles might be very interested to see how the original
creators did them, and what they thought of them, any pointers,
and so on. And some of these people are extremely detailed.
But there is another goal, certainly, and
that is to show, to some extent, the evolution of Balanchines
style. Balanchine was not the same in the 40s as he was
in the 60s, 70s and 80s. These things are,
of course, very hard to put into words and havent really
been addressed. Many of the major critics didnt come to
Balanchine until the 70s. And so this will certainly permit
people to see some evolution in his style, and in his point of
This was not my original intent at all, but
as I began getting these things down, I thought, "Wait a
second. This is more than simply What Balanchine said to
me. It will show, to some extent, the evolution of Balanchines
I will say this. Some people ask me, "Why
are you doing this? Whats your interest in these old ballets?"
Because they think Balanchine is Now. This is Balanchine, and
this is the way Balanchine crystallized his own view. The latest
version is his latest thinking, so who cares what he did in the
40s? Even he said, apparently, this ballet is not worth
reviving any more, or things of that nature, and was certainly
a person who wasÑat least he said, lived very much in
the present. Whether thats true or not, I dont know,
but that was certainly his public posture, that whatever went
before really wasnt of interested.
Q: But youre not trying to
tell anybody that this is--
Reynolds: No. Exactly not. This
is just a silent record. And made without comment. This is from
a historians point of view. Im not telling anybody
what to do.
Q: Youre going to release
the videos to libraries worldwide. Does this mean that, in addition
to dancers, a fan who adores Balanchine will be able to go to
a library and look at these tapes?
Reynolds: Oh, definitely. That
was sort of a compromise, in that we felt that we couldnt
sell them, because we just dont have the apparatus. But
I wanted them to be seen, and Barbara Horgan, who is the director
of the Trust and the Foundation, felt the same way. We want them
to get around to people who want to see them.
Were just getting this part of the project
off the ground. The Dance Heritage Coalition, which is a consortium
of libraries, is handling this, and they are going to send out
an offering letter to various libraries that we, all together,
have identified as possibil-ities. For the cost of duplication,
these libraries can have the tapes in their noncirculating collection.
Theyll be open to the public. They just cant be taken
They are available for viewing at the Dance
Collection. Whether they have been catalogued, et cetera, I couldnt
say. But theyre there, and they could be. The rest of the
list is still not final, so its too early to name the other
Q: How do you do the filming?
Reynolds: We are using broadcast
quality equipment because of all the duplicating, and Ive
learned unbelievable amounts about video since I started this.
At the beginning, I thought you just took a video camera, stuck
it in the corner, and let it roll. This is the way people record
rehearsals, which is actually fine. But we talked to lots of
people about what would last the longest, because we all know
that video maybe can disintegrate in ten years, and whats
the point in making all this big effort and having it disappear?
Q: How much editing are you doing?
Reynolds: We do edit, but we do
keep in plenty of repetition. We may take out the tenth time
someone asks for something, but leave in the first nine, because
thats the nature of the coaching process. And also, it
builds. Its cumulative. Sometimes they dont do everything
the first time. But when you put it together, you say, "Ah,
yes. Now I see."
Q: You really are doing this with
a historians brain.
Reynolds: Well, and to a large
extent, without comment, although obviously any editing decision
is some comment. We also take out the major mistakes, if they
do it on the wrong count, say, or something. We dont see
any point in perpetuating that. We dont have to capture
every minute in the process, especially when it leaves an impression
that is incorrect. Or also, when they look awkward or theres
a bad camera angle, there are any number of reasons you might
need to make a deletion.
Q: Are you shooting in color or
black and white?
Q: Are you trying to do anything
Reynolds: Not really, no. For Markova,
the girl was dressed in a kind of little silk top that looked
vaguely like the Matisse tunic, a teddy, as they call it England.
And if its a tutu ballet, then sometimes they wear tutus,
practice tutus. But no. Basically no.
Q: Can you give me any examples
of coaching that you found particularly helpful?
Reynolds: One of the things that
surprised me was that Tallchief demonstrated such a tremendous
knowledge of various styles. People sometimes think that a Balanchine
dancer only knows one thing. And she kept saying, "Well,
George taught me this," and "George taught me that,"
and George -- you know, coached all those things.
For example, the crossing of the arms in Scotch
Symphony. She demonstrated the way it would be for Giselle,
which is holding the arms lower, sort of waist level, and in
Scotch Symphony, where shes looking at the cavalier,
jumping back and forth, and surrounded by the corps men, its
a higher cross.
Its fascinating what people bring out.
I would say the thing that amazed me most about Tallchief is
her concentration on port de bras. Tallchief is known as this
dynamic technician. I happen to remember, since I did see Tallchief,
that she always had a lovely port de bras, and thats an
unusual combination. The fiery types often dont. But in
those sessions, often almost all the comments were about the
head and upper body, and very few on how to do the footwork.
Q: Did she say that Balanchine
was interested in that with her, that he actually set that?
Reynolds: Yes. Oh, she had numerous
examples of how he wanted the arms to be. One in particular I
remember, she said, "All the time, eyes for arabesque, and
all kinds of jumping steps, eyes one foot above your wrist"--this
is when the arm is elongated. And then there was another position
where you look over your arm, into the lake. "Over the balustrade,
into the lake." So your head is tilted. Its not looking
down, and its not looking sort of diagonally forward, its
looking -- your arm is curved in front of you, you look over
your forearm, onto the floor, so it gives you a kind of an arc.
That, I thought, was fascinating.
So what Maria stressed was the port de bras.
Marie-Jeanne stressed a very simple epaulement. Not a three dimensional,
Baroque epaulement, but almost a two dimensional. A sim-plicity.
Not a flinging of the arms. A very--she kept using the word "simple,"
which didnt quite get it I cant really put it quite
right, but it was--when Terpsichore looks at Apollo, she doesnt
just lean over. Its not a great contraction, or a great
movement. Its that she looks at him.
And that kind of straightforwardness is what
she brought to the port de bras and the epaulement of Barocco.
Now, sometimes, theyre looking backward, practically. That
kind of torsion in the torso, that was not her at all. She kept
saying, "More simple. More simple. Lower ara-besque. Not
an exaggeratedly forward torso." More -- if I say more square,
that makes it sound like its grounded, and thats
not what she meant, but less of that overaccentuation that happened
Q: More classical?
Reynolds: Absolutely. And Maria,
too. Her arms were extremely contained. Different, but there
is a similarity that way.
Q: Is it that Balanchine used whatever
Reynolds: But Maria also stressed
that he used to give them exercises all the time. I mean, it
wasnt just that he found her to have nice arms, and used
them. He trained the arms to be the way he wanted them.
Q: When did he stop?
Reynolds: When did he stop what?
With arms? According to Merrill Ashley, never. Its just
that maybe some people were better pupils than others. And she
goes on to quite some degree about arms. Another thing that Maria
coached wonderfully was running. How you keep your knees straight.
How your feet are in front of you. These are things that dancers
perhaps know, but the audience doesnt think of. But when
you break it down right there on the tape, its very interesting.
We try to have a before and after, but thats
not always possible, because sometimes the dancers cant
do it, especially after a session with Maria Tallchief. Theyre
on their knees. We cant get the final run through, because
theyve had it. But we do try to make a reference point
from which to start.
Q: Arent these people amazing,
in their seventies and eighties, that they have this much energy?
Reynolds: Oh. But you know, they
become wrapped up in something that had a tremendous meaning
for them. Because, you know, somewhere inside them is a love
of dance, even if they may not have done it for years. Once you
get them onto something that once--maybe now, but certainly once--meant
the world to them, and are able to tap that feeling, the floodgates
will open, and they will probably have more energy than even
they thought they had. And find more memories, and find more.
It will become more vivid as the afternoon wears on.