Home Art & Culture Susan Hendl, Ballet Master and Dancer, Dies at 73

Susan Hendl, Ballet Master and Dancer, Dies at 73

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Susan Hendl, a dancer and longtime teacher at New York City Ballet, who staged works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins and inspired generations of dancers, died on Oct. 12 in Manhattan. She was 73.

Her death, at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was from renal failure, said Ellen Sorrin, the director of the George Balanchine Trust.

Ms. Hendl joined City Ballet in 1963 and was promoted to soloist in 1972. Her first principal role with the company was in 1970, as the Strip Tease girl in Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” (She “danced with an unabashed enthusiasm,” the critic Don McDonagh wrote in The New York Times.)

Before retiring from the stage in 1983, Ms. Hendl danced in numerous Balanchine and Robbins ballets. Balanchine created roles for her in “Who Cares?” (1970), “Coppélia” (1974), “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (1975) and “Chaconne”; Robbins created roles for her in “The Goldberg Variations” (1971) and “Requiem Canticles” (1972).

By the late 1970s she had taken on rehearsal duties, working on the first ballets by Peter Martins, who would become ballet master-in-chief after Balanchine’s death at 79 in 1983. She was an assistant to both Balanchine and Robbins in 1979 in their “Les Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” created as a piece d’occasion, starring Rudolf Nureyev, for the New York City Opera.

At first “she was horrified” that Balanchine had asked her to be involved, said Barbara Horgan, Balanchine’s longtime assistant.

“She asked me, ‘Is he trying to get rid of me?’” Ms. Horgan recalled. “But I think George simply saw something in her, knew how good she would be in that role.”

After Balanchine’s death, she became assistant ballet master at City Ballet, and for the next 25 years, until ill health forced her to step back in 2018, she staged and rehearsed an unusually broad range of ballets, including Robbins’s “Opus 19: The Dreamer and Other Dances,” and Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” “Allegro Brillante,” “La Valse” and “Western Symphony.”

She also staged “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” for the 1983 Broadway revival of “On Your Toes,” the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical for which Balanchine created the piece, and worked with the director Emile Ardolino when “Other Dances” was performed at the White House in 1979.

Ms. Hendl was a trustee for the George Balanchine Trust, which licenses and oversees the production of the choreographer’s ballets worldwide. “She was wonderfully perceptive and intuitive about which companies, and which dancers, were suited to specific ballets,” Ms. Sorrin said.

Susan Coxe Hendl was born on Sept. 18, 1947 in New York City, the only child of Walter and Mary (Newbold) Hendl. Her father was a composer and a conductor, her mother a visual artist. The family moved to Dallas after Mr. Hendl was appointed music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. Hendl was in preschool when she took a ballet class with Alexandra Danilova, a Russian-born ballerina who taught at the School of American Ballet in New York. After her parents separated, Ms. Hendl began lessons with the Balanchine protégé and Pennsylvania Ballet founder Barbara Weisberger in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where she moved with her mother.

She enrolled at the School of American Ballet in 1959, taking her academic classes each day at the Children’s Professional School. “She was kind of a handful, very emotional about everything, but everyone was very fond of her,” Ms. Horgan said. “She was very gifted, with a really lovely soft, gentle style, and I felt Mr. Balanchine thought she had a lot of potential.”

Ms. Hendl joined City Ballet in 1963 when she was 16. “The company was much smaller then, and we all danced three or four ballets a night,” said Kay Mazzo, the faculty chairwoman at the School of American Ballet. “Susie was a beautiful dancer with great charm.”

Her best-known roles included the blue and pink girls in Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering” and in “The Goldberg Variations.”

“Miss Hendl filled the stage with luxuriously stretched arabesques and the delicate detail of her head and arm work,” Jennifer Dunning wrote in a 1978 review in The Times.

Ms. Hendl had a romantic relationship with the principal dancer Edward Villella that lasted a few years in the late 1970s. “Susie was one of Mr. B’s ‘women’ — tall, blond and thin,” Mr. Villella wrote in his 1992 autobiography, “Prodigal Son,” referring to Balanchine. “She had a ‘drop dead’ figure. I got the feeling that Mr. B objected to my dating her, but he never told me so directly.”

As a ballet master, Ms. Hendl taught and influenced subsequent generations of dancers who never had direct contact with Balanchine or Robbins.

“She enlightened me about the traditions, the stories of City Ballet, what it was like to dance for Balanchine,” said Nikolaj Hubbe, a former principal dancer who is now the artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet. “When you were in the studio with her, learning a ballet, her accuracy, precision and enormous musicality made you aware of the nuances in a very poetic way.”

Those who worked closely with Balanchine could be a bit snobbish, but “Susie never had that,” Mr. Hubbe added.

“She looked at you as a dancer,” he said, “as a musical instrument, as an artist.” She was also, he said, wry, funny and intelligent.

Ms. Hendl left no immediate survivors. “Her family was the New York City Ballet,” Ms. Mazzo said.

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