In a large practice studio inside Lincoln Center's Koch Theater, Suzanne Farrell watches quietly as New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen work through a series of supported poses. As Janzen kneels to face her, Mearns brushes through to croisé arabesque, extending her leg high behind her. "I wouldn't penché there," says Farrell, gently. "You can, but I wouldn't."
"I get so excited here," says Mearns with a laugh. The three are slowly working through the pas de deux of "Diamonds," the ballet George Balanchine created on Farrell and Jacques D'Amboise in 1967 that makes up the third act of his full-length Jewels.
"I know," Farrell says. "But it's more exciting if the arabesque turn afterwards is sustained."
Farrell goes over a partnering sequence with Tyler Angle and Maria Kowroski. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy NYCB.<p>Her return came about through a series of separate inquiries. One was from newly appointed artistic director Jonathan Stafford, who has brought in past NYCB luminaries, such as <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/whats-edward-villella-doing-now-2599574853.html" target="_self">Edward Villella</a> and Patricia McBride, to coach dancers in the roles they originated since <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/peter-martins-retirement-2521873521.html?share_id=3133269" target="_self">Martins' resignation </a>in 2018. The other was a personal letter from Kowroski; now the company's most senior ballerina, she wrote to Farrell expressing how much she'd love to work with her before she retires.</p><p>Mearns, who says working with Farrell has been a lifelong dream, says she and Kowroski weren't sure what to expect when they found out she had agreed to come. "We knew it would probably be an emotional experience for her," she says.</p><p>In a phone interview, Farrell admitted to feeling a "wide spectrum of emotions" walking into the theater. "But whenever I get into a studio everything falls away," she says. "It becomes about the work and Mr. B. And what was wonderful was working on 'Diamonds' again in the very room where it came into being: Mr. B, Jacques, the pianist—it all started in that room."</p>
Mearns and Russell Janzen rehearse the pas de deux from Balanchine's "Diamonds." Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy NYCB.<p>Mearns was surprised by how much certain aspects of the ballet had changed over time. "Those diagonals have flattened out, or they've become circles. But the original spacing makes more sense and actually makes things easier—we're able to move more expansively."</p><p>Along the way Farrell clarified counts and steps—simplifying assemblés that had become embellished, restoring attitudes that had straightened into arabesques, or pointing out musical syncopations that needed more emphasis. A punchy relevé développé in the scherzo, she told Mearns, "should feel more like a yawn," while during a series of promenades in the polonaise, she advised the couple to pause briefly in between each new position. "That had gotten blurred over the years, probably because someone wanted to keep getting around, and then that's what we were taught," says Mearns. "But she's right—there's so much going on during the finale and we're right there in front. You have to bring focus to something."</p>
Kowroski and Angle during "Diamonds" rehearsal. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy NYCB.<p>Farrell often presented her suggestions to the couple as options rather than dictations. "I don't want to take anybody's interpretation away from them," she explained later. "But I do want them to understand how Mr. B intended it to look and what he was going after at the time. And I want to give dancers a thesaurus of ways they can be, instead of just one adjective, so that they can take the one that's appropriate for the time."</p><p>While there aren't any immediate plans for Farrell to come back, Mearns describes her time with her as sacred: "You could see that the ballet had not left her, and that she was so in tune with Balanchine." She predicts the role will feel newly layered when she and Janzen perform it on May 7. "I think it will be heightened, I think it will be deepened, and I think it will be a very new experience onstage."</p>