See her autobiography (1991).
She was born Roberta Sue Ficker in Cincinnati, and received her early training at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. In 1959, she was selected to study at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet with a Ford Foundation scholarship; she started there in 1960, and joined the New York City Ballet (NYCB) in 1961.
Balanchine was married to the polio-stricken former ballerina Tanaquil LeClerq, however, and Farrell was a Catholic. She refused to consummate the relationship, and married a fellow dancer the same week Balanchine obtained a divorce.
When she married Paul Mejia, a dancer in the company, in 1969, her bond with Balanchine suffered, and they left the New York City Ballet in 1970. After a spell in Europe, she eventually returned to Balanchine and the New York City Ballet in 1975, where her partnership with Balanchine lasted until his death in April, 1983; his last works were solos for Farrell.
She then moved on to passing on the ballets of Balanchine to the next generation of ballet dancers, working with famed companies around the world, such as those in Berlin and Vienna, as well as the Paris Opera Ballet, Kirov Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. In 1993, The New York City Ballet dismissed her from her teaching and coaching (but un-titled) position with the company.
Farrell's engagement with the Kennedy Center began in 1993 and 1994, when the Center offered two series of ballet master classes for students with Farrell. This series provided intermediate-to-advanced level ballet students, ages 13 to 17, an opportunity to study with one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. Due to the uniqueness of Farrell's place in the ballet world and the quality of her teaching, the Kennedy Center expanded the program to a national level in 1995 in order to fulfill the Center's mission to enhance the arts education of America's young people. This three weeks long yearly initiative of intense study grew into a full-fledged program, Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell.
In the fall of 1999, Farrell received critical acclaim for the successful Kennedy Center engagement and East Coast tour of Suzanne Farrell Stages the Masters of 20th Century Ballet. Following the Kennedy Center's debut, the newly named Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a group of professional dancers hand selected by Farrell, has since performed at the Kennedy Center during engagements in 2001 and 2002, been on an extensive East Coast tour, and returned to the Kennedy Center as part of the 2003-2004 Ballet Season following a 7-week national tour. Suzanne Farrell was selected as one of the five recipients of the 2005 Kennedy Center Honors, one of the highest honors for lifetime artistic achievement.
Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell is an initiative of the Kennedy Center Education Department and is made possible in part by the U.S. Department of Education and the Kennedy Center Corporate Fund. Additional support is provided by the Margaret Abell Powell Fund.
Suzanne Farrell was prominently featured in Balanchine (2004) a documentary about the life of George Balanchine.
Farrell has received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame, Georgetown University, among others. She has also been a tenured professor of dance at Florida State University since 2000, and in 2003 she received the National Medal of Arts. She was recently celebrated in 2005 at the Kennedy Center Honors as one of the most influential ballerinas of the 20th century, among such talents as Tina Turner and Robert Redford. She also was the 2005 recipient of the Capezio Dance Award.