September 20, 2022
Suki Says – Excerpts from Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique
When it comes to Balanchine technique, School of American Ballet faculty member Suki Schorer wrote the book, literally. Her publication Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique (Knopf, 1999) is a thorough and inspiring text covering everything from barre work to jumps, pointe work to partnering. It’s an essential and detailed resource for any dancer or ballet teacher interested in Balanchine’s style as well as the training taught at SAB. Over the next few months we are going to be sharing excerpts of the book right here on the SAB website in an installment of posts we’re lovingly referring to as our Suki Says series!
Every other week, we’ll publish a highlight from one chapter that covers intricate elements of Balanchine’s style, whether it’s the positioning of the hands or the specifics of a perfect plié. As Ms. Schorer celebrates her 50th year of teaching at SAB, we hope this series will not only be a useful digital resource, but celebrate Ms. Schorer’s accomplished teaching and provide a delightful glimpse into her wisdom, wit, and undeniable love of ballet!
First, some background…
Ms. Schorer began her professional career with the San Francisco Ballet but left to join New York City Ballet in 1959. She rose to the rank of principal dancer and her repertory included principal roles in Apollo, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Symphony in C, Stars and Stripes, Tarantella and Jewels among others. George Balanchine choreographed solo roles on her in Don Quixote, Raymonda Variations, Harlequinade, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the early 1960s, Mr. Balanchine asked Ms. Schorer to assist him as a teacher at the Company and in Ford Foundation Seminars for teachers. She started as a guest teacher at the School of American Ballet while still a fairly new corps dancer in the Company and she also took class with several of the founding teachers of the School. In 1972, Ms. Schorer became a permanent member of the faculty, teaching intermediate and advanced students, and she continues to teach our advanced students today. Ms. Schorer has also had an essential part in staging Balanchine repertoire for our annual Workshop Performances, first begun in 1965 by prominent faculty member Alexandra Danilova, giving SAB students the opportunity to perform some of Mr. Balanchine’s most cherished works on stage.
Suki Schorer on writing this book…
“I wrote this book to pass along what I learned from George Balanchine. I wanted to help teachers of advanced dancers, and the dancers themselves, to learn and understand the way he worked and the result he worked for. With that knowledge, I hope teachers and advanced dancers are more able to work to achieve those results. I believe this will be possible even for those who never knew Mr. B and never knew any of us who danced and taught for him…
Balanchine showed us a way of life. Without ever saying a word about it, he gave us a philosophy. We could choose to live it or not. It was our choice. I learned everything I could from him, so that I could dance and teach in keeping with his aesthetic. The way he taught gives me the opportunity as a teacher to continue to serve classical ballet by passing on what I have learned to future generations. It is a privilege. And an obligation!
…Mr. B asked me to start to teach when I was very young…I think he knew that I could see, really see, all the little things, but without loosing sight of the entire movement, its thrust, its music and its precise timing and phrasing, the general approach, the underlying ideas. He saw that I could communicate and get a positive result and he saw that correct execution mattered as much to me as it did to him. He could therefore count on me to teach ‘how to do’…
In each exercise, some will do better thank others. No one will be best all the way through class. That is true at every level and no one can change it. But the teacher of advanced dancers can ensure that every dancer learns what is right and where to put the effort. That is what Mr. B taught. His classes were a challenge for everyone who came, but in different ways…
Mr. B said, ‘I am a teacher. That is my contribution.’ No one doubts it. He taught me to dance and to teach. I hope that in some small way I too can say that teaching is my contribution.”
(Schorer, 1999, p.417-418)
Suki Says Series
In the weeks and months to come, we will be sharing distilled excerpts from Ms. Schorer’s book on the topics below. For a more in-depth study (plus such a wealth of knowledge, quotes, stories, and beautiful photographs) the book can be purchased online, but we hope these small sections of the text will serve as an informative and inspiring glimpse into the teachings of George Balanchine and enhance your learning and appreciation of his aesthetic.
Schorer, S., Lee, C. R., & Rosegg, C. (1999). Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique. A.A. Knopf.