Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Swan Song: Retirement of Ballerina Darci Kistler

Last Sunday I attended a historic event: the retirement of New York City Ballet principal dancer Darci Kistler.

Darci was the last in a long string of larger-than-life ballerinas who were hand-picked and trained by the equally larger-than-life George Balanchine.
With the exception of an ankle injury that sidelined her in the '80s, Darci has enjoyed a remarkable 30 year performance career as a dancer at City Ballet, and remains its fastest rising star (from Apprentice to Principal in just 2 years).

This poster of Darci adorned my dorm room walls throughout college:

She's posing as Odette, the lead character from "Swan Lake," atop the surface of The Pond at Central Park, with The Plaza visible in the background. This image, with its illusory magic, always defined for me the best of everything about City Ballet. I cannot imagine a recent City Ballet principal better suited to pose for this iconic photo, and I will treasure it always as a perfect tribute to the city and the art that I love so dearly.

I have been looking forward to her farewell performance for months, but I confess that Darci has never been one of my favorite performers, though I have always respected her deeply.
I frequently find myself longing for glory days which predate my lifetime, and my sense has always been that Darci was great long before I ever got to see her dance (in fact, before I was even born), and that she may have done well to retire several years ago.

Though I don't always agree with his assessments, statements made in NYTimes dance critic Alastair Macaulay's review of Darci's final performance seem to corroborate my personal feelings on her career:
"The film 'George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker,"' in which she appeared as the Sugar Plum Fairy, suggests that her glory lasted until at least 1993. But my memory is that by 1992, her dancing had become scaled down, polite and musically safe. Since then her career has been a long, slow fade... After Sunday’s performance I had coffee with a balletgoer who had become a devotee of New York City Ballet in 1996. I was hoping that he would tell me how the later Kistler had meant to him something of what Fonteyn once meant to me. But in all those years, Ms. Kistler’s dancing had never been one of his reasons to follow the company. Her pale autumn has lasted far longer than her bright spring and summer combined, and I cannot see that since 1992 she has been a good role model for the young."

He acknowledges, generously, her undeniable loveliness:
"Her long, tapering limbs; remarkable breadth of shoulder; loveliness of facial features (and in particular her lips, whose beautiful outline registered in the theater with great distinction); the beautiful pliancy of her feet,"
and noted how, during her farewell performance,
"the light still falls beautifully on the planes of her face."
And yet, the time has come for her to bid us adieu.

Many balletomanes have maintained that as long as Darci dances, Balanchine lives.
I used to think that was true; after all, there is nothing like a direct link to the origin of genius to legitimize the continuation of a tradition.
And yet, as I watched Darci dance on Sunday, I found myself longing for other dancers to join her on stage...Tess Reichlen, Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns.
And I realized that the tradition will continue, perhaps stronger, after Darci.
Macaulay came to the same conclusion, ending his review by stating:
"With the retirement of this last Balanchine ballerina, we have all moved one generation on in history."

I'll leave you with some photos I took during the farewell:

Final performance bow after Swan Lake, Act IV:

Accepting her first flower, from conductor Clotilde Otranto:

A final cast bow:

A bear hug and flowers from former principal dancer Albert Evans, who retired one week prior:

Getting a lift from past and present male Principal dancers, with other Principals surrounding her on stage:

Baby bouquets from baby ballerinas of the School of American Ballet (where Darci has long been a teacher):

Darci is the youngest child with four older brothers.
Three of them, along with her mother, came on stage and lifted her up, in one of the most fun and touching moments of the evening:

Hugging daughter Talicia:

Showered with falling glitter:

It really was quite a sight to behold:

The sunlight begins to set on Lincoln Center after the farewell ends:

Hoping the best will always be yet to come,


BLC :o said...

Gosh! What a treat!!! Many thanks for sharing --- I can only imagine how wonderful it was to be there in person. Xoxo-BLC

Laura said...

in the "showering her with glitter" shot she is a front leg pop away from doing the famous dying swan pose. please tell me it happened at some point during the show.