Of the five dancers I name above, only two did I see in live performance - Baryshnikov and Farrell. Both I saw with the NYCB, in their Chicago seasons in my late youth, when George Balanchine was still alive and that company was in its late prime. The company was full of tremendous dancers (and Baryshnikov was with them to add to his already prodigious vocabulary), but it was seeing Farrell that was life-changing. The ballet was Agon, Stravinsky from the '50's and written for (and with) Balanchine. It was not made on her, originally, but I had never seen anything like it. Her partner (as in the picture above) was Peter Martins, and for all the music's and the choreography's spikiness - listen to a recording, if you can fucking find one anymore - it is a reiteration of very old courtly dances. Arlene Croce once wrote something to the effect that ballet exalts manners and civilization, but it also contains the unspeakable; Agon is like that. What I saw Farrell do was combine them, in the same moment, in the great pas-de-deux - conquest and submission, and mercy, too.
I saw her in other things - dances that had been made on her, notably two performances of Vienna Waltzes in which she carries the final act (to Richard Strauss's suite from Der Rosenkavalier), for much of it almost alone on stage, from isolation, though fleeting partnerships, to a kind of self-immolation exit the like of which I have never seen. The exit ushers in the final luscious tableau of swirling partners, but it's a renunciation (not unlike the opera's Marschallin) that you remember - and the suggestion of much darker things. To do all that is being more than a dancer. I don't even know what the word for it is.
In Venice, California, I used to sit house for some friends - looked after their cats, get a respite - and I got to know their neighbors (e.g., look down from above on the hair-transplant plugs of the guy who lived beneath them). As it happened, the woman next door started talking about a dance program and she was from Cincinnati and had known Suzy as a kid - girlfriends. Knocked me off my feet, and I told about what I had seen (with more gush), and not too long after that she brought me back, from a trip East, an autograph and a photo of her and Suzanne. A treasure, and lost now, but, whoa, while I had it, it was gold - it still is, and it was a kindness of Suzanne Farrell (who is famously shy about that sort of thing) to acknowledge a fan.
I suppose that's what has set Farrell apart in the line of great dancers I listed - all-out commitment, all-out performance, combined with a personal reticence that doesn't take to the runway, that shuns stardom. Muses don't bestow their gifts lightly - which is why poets were always appealing to them, praying to them, to show up this time. She's got a part-time company out of DC, she's coaching and staging with companies all over the world, but that unity of personal performance and the works she inspired and made new - those are gone. Yeats nailed the eternal transience of the art with:
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?