Legendary ballerina, FSU dance professor Suzanne Farrell receives 2005 Kennedy Center honors

FSU’s Francis Eppes Professor of Dance Suzanne Farrell has long been regarded as one of the most extraordinary and influential ballerinas of the late-20th century, and on Dec. 3 and 4 in Washington, D.C., her contributions to the performing arts and American culture were rewarded with 2005 Kennedy Center Honors.

The world-renowned prima ballerinashared the Kennedy Center spotlight with illustrious fellow honorees Tony Bennett and Tina Turner, singers; actor, director and producer Robert Redford; and actress Julie Harris. The Honors were formally presented Dec. 3 at a U.S. State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; then celebrated Dec. 4 during the 28th annual Honors Gala at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bushattended the Dec. 4 event—considered the highlight of the Washington cultural season—after receiving the Kennedy Center Honorees at the White House. Stars from throughout the world of the performing artssaluted the celebrities’ remarkable careers in a gala performance that CBS will broadcast as a two-hour prime time special on Dec. 27 at 9 p.m. (EST).

"Farrell’s profound artistry has inspired the creation of masterpieces and is teaching ballet to a new generation," said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman in announcing the 2005 Honors. Since 1978, Kennedy Center Honors recipients have been lauded for their superlative lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts, whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television.

College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance Dean Sally McRorie mirrored FSU’s delight at the latest acknowledgement of Farrell’s unique talent and lasting impact.

"Suzanne Farrell is among the most recognized and valued members of the world of dance. It’s impossible to overestimate her achievements, from her years as a breathtaking performer to each remarkable performance that The Suzanne Farrell Ballet now offers the world," McRorie said.

"Her Kennedy Center Honor, among the highest honors any artist may receive, is most well deserved, and comes on the heels of her recent Capezio Award and her 2003 Presidential Medal of Honor in the Arts."

Handpicked for New York City Ballet’s elite corps in 1960—on her 15th birthday—after an audition with ballet master George Balanchine, Farrell received scholarships to attend the School of American Ballet and the Professional Children’s School. After less than a year of study, she took her place with New York City Ballet and soon became Balanchine’s undisputed muse and most prominent ballerina for nearly 20 of her 28 years on stage. He and others wrote many leading roles expressly for her.

In fact, Farrell—born Roberta Sue Ficker in Mount Healthy, Ohio—performed nothing but leading roles after her 1961 debut season at age 16 (when she changed her name).

Eventually she built a repertory of more than 100 ballets and logged more than 2,000 New York City Ballet performances, interrupted only briefly by an interlude with Ballet of the 20th Century in Brussels, Belgium. Her top billing with Balanchine’s famed company, her world tours, and her appearances in television and movies have made her one of the most recognizable and highly esteemed artists of her generation. By the mid-1960s, she was a symbol of the era. By the time Farrell retired from the stage in 1989, her career was considered without precedent or parallel in the history of ballet.

Balanchine described her as a Stradivarius to his music. Even after his death in 1983, she continued to perform and redefine the standards of his works and now is considered a leading interpreter of Balanchine’s Ballets for the Balanchine Trust. In 2000, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet became a full-fledged company at the Kennedy Center—the same year Farrell joined the FSU faculty.

Her artistic and academic awards and endeavors are myriad. A very short list might include the 2003 National Medal of the Arts, the 2005 Capezio Award, and the intensive annual ballet course she’s conducted at the Kennedy Center since 2000: "Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell." In 1999, also in collaboration with the Kennedy Center, Farrell directed and toured the acclaimed production "Staging the Masters of the 20th Century Ballet." Her autobiography, "Holding On to the Air," was published in 1990 for dance lovers everywhere and "Suzanne Farrell—Elusive Muse" nabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Film in 1997.

"As our Eppes Professor of Dance, Ms. Farrell not only heightens the reputation of our outstanding department of dance, but also provides our dance students incredible instruction and powerful insights into the professional world of dance at its highest level," McRorie said. "We are indeed fortunate to count her among the Florida State University faculty, and we thank the Kennedy Center for its recognition of her lifetime devotion to dance."

FSU’s dance program boasts one of the finest facilities in the world. Its Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) is both the first of its kind in the United States and the first in the world located in a university setting.