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Suzanne Farrell Ballet


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 05:17 PM

The company opened last night. I'm reviewing the second performance (tonight) and so don't want to comment until after that is in print, but I hope others who were there will report.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 29 September 2001 - 10:00 AM

This is on the Links forum as well, but I thought I'd repeat it here. Sarah Kaufman's review of the opening night.
[url="http://"http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43931-2001Sep29.html"]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/artic...-2001Sep29.html[/url]

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 30 September 2001 - 12:09 PM

What, no posts yet? You could think no one was there but the audience! Let's see...

Opening night, Chan Han Goh was lovely and light in the Sylph role in "Scotch Symphony", and Ben Huys was her very fine partner, in particular miming very well in the Sylph bits; Kristen Stevens in the Scherzo (1st movement) demi role I liked better in her upper body than below, although Ron Matson's tempos, appropriately brisk until the finale, which was a little slow, meant that she had her work cut out for her. Saturday afternoon, Christina Fagundes was beautiful in the role but lacked Goh's lightness and needs to tone down what she does with her face. Her young partner, Runqiao Du, hadn't got down the mime that opens the second movement, but that may come with time; already he has what his partners need for complete security, evidently, and that's greatly to his credit in my book.

Following Goh's "Scotch" we had Natalia Magnicaballi and Du in "Afternoon of a Faun", which I thought very creditable, with Du's youth appropriate to the role and matched by a certain informality, not to say improvisatory quality, in his partner's dancing. But Saturday afternoon, Goh and Huys gave this ballet a larger and more effective performance.

"Duo Concertant" follows on Program A, danced rather carefully on Thursday by Jennifer Fournier but on Saturday afternoon really enlivened by Magnicaballi. Their adequate partner was Du, looking a bit over his head.

Closing the program, whether it should or not, was "Apollo", with Bonnie Pickard lush and vivid at the top of the platform right at the beginning as Leto on Thursday, but with Marialena Ruiz vague and much less effective for me Saturday afternoon. But what of that? Ben Huys was a clear and dramatic Apollo, making the rapid developments of the first scene, that Balanchine later omitted, etched like frames in a film strip. I liked Fournier on Thursday better as Calliope, although I liked Goh even better in the role on Saturday. Magnicaballi was fine as Polyhymnia Thursday, and Pickard showed in it on Saturday more of the strengths we had got just a little of, seeing her Leto. I enjoyed Fagundes's Terpsichore on Thursday even though it seemed a bit disconnected; "Apollo" seems to me to be more like that throughout than Balanchine's later ballets, but on Saturday Fournier gave a performance of Terpsichore more connected and clearer than Fagundes had done which I enjoyed even more, and was the most satisfying one I've seen by her so far.

Whatever "Apollo's" shortcomings as a closing ballet - I think the last pose both a conclusion and a harbinger - the person sitting next to me volunteered the opinion that it had been "beautiful" - it never hurts to end a program with the audience feeling good - and wondered why the Post writer had been so "snotty" about it. I haven't caught up with that review yet, so I don't know, but the cast was different.

Friday evening's Program B led off with a slowish and even performance of "La Sonnambula" - it lacked the contrasts among parts that this ballet needs. Even the music lacked crescendos. Goh was pretty impressive as the Sleepwalker, nonetheless, and much appreciated by the audience, and Huys was effective as the Poet.

"Monumentum/ Movements", as it used to be listed in days of yore, was the high point of the run for me, especially "Movements for Piano and Orchestra". This staging showed what this ballet really is; it was a little diminished by Fournier's careful approach in contrast to Du, her more energized partner. After only a pause, it was followed by "Duo Concertant", given an altogether larger performance by Magnicaballi and Huys than she and Du had given Friday night.

"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ended the program, but it generally lacked the energy and crispness of MCB's last Spring; Edward Villella's Thug will not soon be replaced in my experience, apparently; and Fournier's modest Strip Tease Girl does not compete so well with memories of Farrell's own as some others I've seen since. But it's a good time anyway, and I didn't mind hearing someone whistling the music in a Seven-Eleven afterward.

(posted from Washington, D.c.)

[ 09-30-2001: Message edited by: Jack Reed ]

#4 kfw

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Posted 01 October 2001 - 04:28 PM

My wife and I saw the 2nd bill Sunday afternoon, and the orchestra section couldn't have been more than 3/4 full, if that. What a shame. I don't have much to add to Jack and Alexandra's reviews. We see little enough ballet and are easily pleased. So yes, "Slaughter" has been sharper and Fournier is not the most abandoned dancer around, but we enjoyed them. "Duo Concertant" probably received the best performance of the evening, and Magnicaballi almost made me laugh in the opening moments of the duet, as she swiveled her hips. I hadn't seen the ballet in 10 years, but I don't remember Darci Kistler looking quite so frisky! Ben Huys really stood out for us in all 3 pieces he danced. We've seen him several times before but he just seemed to have more energy when called for than anyone else on stage, especially in "Slaughter." In the last minute or two of that, in the little encore section after the murder intrigue business is through, he looked to be dancing for pure joy. I guess that's just the impression one is supposed to give there, but, well, he had us convinced.

Jack and Alexandra, I wonder if you would expand your criticisms of "Somnambula." We especially enjoyed Bonnie Pickard and Christina Fagundes. I do remember that the illusion of the sleepwalker moving past the upstairs window had more power on the State Theater's big stage.

As for "Apollo" not being a closing ballet, I agree. It's funny, I remember Farrell closed one of her bills with it two years ago too.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 01 October 2001 - 06:12 PM

Thanks very much for those reports, Jack and Ken. Re attendance, we've been hit down here with post-Sept 11 tourist blues too, especially with National Airport being closed. The news reports hotels at 10 or 20 percent capacity! While D.C. residents seem to be going, anything that depends on tourists is in trouble -- at least one musical has closed before opening. How this will affect the rest of the season is, of course, still unclear.

Ken, Sonnambula is a ballet I've seen a lot, so I guess I'm measuring, but, as I wrote, I thought it had no atmosphere. The Poet is innocent, naive, the others sophisticated. The Host keeps his wife locked in a tower; there's no wholesomeness here. There was once a lot going on in the first part -- decadence, irony. I can understand that this is a very complicated ballet to try to stage for a very new company, but there were problems. Another thing, which happens often today with narrative ballets, is that the story isn't TOLD. It's illustrated. People respond to musical cues, not to what's going on around them. I didn't have the feeling that the Coquette knew why she was interested in the Poet (tease? set up? genuine?), what the Poet felt about her, what The Host was up to, or even whether the Poet felt that the Sleepwalker was his ideal, or a love. It just hadn't jelled yet. But most important, the smell of moonlight and romanticism should be evident. It's a 20th century romantic ballet, but it's a romantic ballet. I didn't get any of that.

As for Apollo being a closer, Ken, last season, in the Terrace, it worked better somehow, to me. (I think, also, if the performance had been transcendant, it would have been better. The opening night, at least, was very raw. "Scotch" was the strongest performance on the program and everything after it was diminished.

I can't get a handle on the audience. I don't see a lot of the regulars. On the other hand, there are more small children than usual at the ballet -- really small, preschool, early grade school. I don't know if it was on a family subscription.

The audience opening night didn't feel too happy, from where I sat. The second night, they were more into it. But generally, it seems to be not a dance audience. People laughed during Apollo. Lots. The audience almost always laughs at the pas de deux for the Poet and Sleepwalker in Sonnambula (which I find upsetting. It's a desperate moment, not a funny one.)

Despite my quibbles, I'd like to stress that I admire the Kennedy Center for its backing of Farrell, and Farrell for what she's doing. When it's good, it's very, very good. She's trying something no one has done since Joffrey -- start a major company from scratch. It takes time. They can't rehearse for six months; they have to be on stage. So I understand at least some of the problems. I hope it will be possible for Farrell to have more time. If she's limited to having a short autumn season with what is essentially a pick up company (freelancers or dancers needing work before their regular season starts) it will be difficult for her to accomplish what I think she's capable of doing.

BUT and nevertheless, we're getting nearly two whole weeks of Balanchine and I think that's good for the dance audience here. We once got NYCB for three weeks a year (and sometimes another one or two in the summer, at Wolf Trap) and the audience was more attuned to choreography during that period.

#6 Natalia

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Posted 02 October 2001 - 05:42 AM

Alexandra et. al., thanks for the insights on the first week of the Farrell Ballet's run. A few of us among the DC 'regulars' have been holding out 'til this week due, in part, to the prior knowledge that Peter Boal is dancing in the latter part of the engagement. [Yup - count me in as another of his admirers.] Furthermore, performances tend to gel and improve as a season progresses, as you pointed out elsewhere.

#7 kfw

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Posted 02 October 2001 - 07:39 PM

Alexandra, thanks for the explanation. I see what you mean, of course -- I didn't catch any of that detail either. Jack, I reread your review and remembered seeing Farrell's production of "Faun" in the Terrace Theater a couple of years ago, as you probably did as well. If memory and the publicity photo serve, Huys danced with Veronica Lynn, and the Magnicaballi performance was with Phillip Neal. Here again I welcome more experienced eyes, but I loved both performances.

I can't decide what I hope to see Boal in this week. Everything!

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 October 2001 - 09:40 PM

I'm just hoping Peter's not exhausted by the time I get him next week!

I think we're going to be able to rehearse Midare again for the first time at dress rehearsal (I'm not worried, he knows it and it was made on him, but one rehearsal with the instrumentalist would have been nice for peace of mind.) He's been dancing non-stop this summer, Saratoga, Europe, then Japan with Molissa Fenley, Suzanne and me. And I have no idea what he does after.

Some retirement!

[ 10-02-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

#9 Jack Reed

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Posted 02 October 2001 - 11:42 PM

I want to offer a correction to the penultimate sentence in Alexandra's review as printed in Monday, 1st October. At least as I read it, "continues through Saturday" means the run ends Saturday evening, while the caption under the picture below the review "...through Oct. 7 [Sunday]" is correct, apparently, according to someone with the company I spoke to today; there is still a matinee on Sunday. A little nervous these days, I thought maybe it had been cancelled.

I also found things to enjoy in "Sonnambula", mainly a couple of nice big pas de deux (the Coquette and the Poet, and the Sleepwalker and the Poet, Fagundes, then Goh, with Huys) and a smaller one (the Divertissements pas de deux, Pickard with Du). But the dimension Alexandra has written about above - I might have said "sinister" rather than "no wholesomeness", but she and I are responding to the same quality, I think - was very attenuated compared with the Old Days (i.e. when Mr. B. was supervising), when crescendoes, orchestral and otherwise, were underlined. For example, when the Baron has gone offstage and stabbed the Poet to the repeated three-note figure (ta-daaa-duh) forte' in the brass and the corps of party-goers mass horrified on the opposite side of the stage, the Divertissement dancers, having gone offstage at the end of their Divertissement, run back on, as Farrell's do, but the girls' hair is in disarray and all their costumes are torn - this ballet was more hair-raising for us than anything else, I'd say, including "La Valse", as it built steadily along. We felt for this sensitive loner who wanders in, but we don't feel so much for him in this staging. Not at any point I would say, beginning with his adventures with the Sleepwalker, whose motion he can affect, but whose mind he canot reach. And so when he meets the end we do not foresee in particular but sense in general, we are not so moved as before. This is a good beginning, I'd say; if it can be filled in, colored and shaded, fine , but I don't see how, even allowing for the lack of budget for a set of torn costumes for the Divertissement dancers, because there's little opportunity to show it after this short season, including the tour. I believe what Alexandra says about the difficulty of mounting this with complete success. But I admire Farrell for doing it when she could - artistically, she's got guts. Then again, she always did.

Incidentally, for other admirers of Bonnie Pickard, whom I first noticed as Leto, then in the Sonnambula Divertissements pas de deux, and then as Polyhymnia, the good news is, she's getting another nice part as the Fourth Variation girl in "Divertimento No.15"; the bad news is, it won't be shown here in Washington as part of this season. They're preparing it for other venues where the stage is smaller than the Eisenhower Theatre.

I also want to add to my original post my satisfaction with Mario Hernandez as Harlequin and Kristen Stevens in the Pastorale pas de trois in "Sonnambula", although I still like Stevens's lovely arms better than her legwork.

This evening I saw Peter Boal's first "Duo Concertante" (with this group, anyway) and while I thought he did more for Magnicaballi than Huys did, which is going some, I thought he pretty much whipped off his own doancing, and I think I prefer Huys so far. Boal makes an effect of physical power but less effective dance, if my meaning is clear. (Maybe Leigh should call him up and express his concern directly.)

This program ends with "Slaughter", and I am glad to see Fournier's (comparative) abandon at the end of it, after the show-within-the-show is wrapped up.

A friend who has been looking at "Scotch Symphony" for decades and who has benefitted me (and others) with her insights into all the dance she sees wants someone to explain the plot of this ballet to her. The demi- soloist in the first movement is never seen again, and the second movement doesn't make sense. She can see why James refuses to go into the darker parts of the forest with the Sylph after he is twice prevented from following her, but then what happens? The easy answer, assuming this isn't all spelled out in "Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets", my copy of which is at home, is to say, do what Mr. B. did when he found he had all these Scotch costumes on his hands: Call up Mendelssohn and ask him. I.e., what the music prescribes (or supports), happens, and nothing else. (I remember the superb action Balanchine made seem naturally to grow out of the overture bits in "Midsummer".)

But maybe it's something about how it's the nature of sylphs to tease but they can be tamed by a little firmness and become loving forever after. (See third movement.) No, this doesn't really fit, does it? It reduces it terribly, doesn't it? And I think there's the nub of it - it doesn't explain. I mean, what happens in "Scotch Symphony" doesn't explain. That's why it's so good. If you see it, you believe it. No? Anybody else want to try?

(posted from Washington, D.C.)

[ 10-03-2001: Message edited by: Jack Reed ]

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 01:12 AM

It would be hard to judge what Farrell's doing from Peter (not that Jack was at all.) In this case he's the quintessential guest artist. Peter landed on a plane from Japan to New York last evening, got on a train this morning and performed in DC tonight. I think Magnacaballi would be lucky if she got to rehearse with him beyond a runthrough before they performed, and Suzanne might have gotten a "hello" in there somewhere, but not much more. If his performance wasn't up to his usual, that might be why. It's not the ideal situation for anyone involved, I think, but you takes what you gets when you can't afford full-time contracts. (I'm on a much smaller scale, but I understand exactly what Suzanne is trying to work with. Actually, I think she's working at a disadvantage because she's bound to pre-existing repertory. I can at least tailor the dances to the dancers I've got.)

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 08:25 AM

A note: Peter Boal has worked with Farrell before and, I believe, learned "Scotch Symphony" from her.

Jack, on "Scotch Symphony," a friend of mine who knows the ballet better than I says, forget "La Sylphide;" it's "Brigadoon."

The only performance of Scotch that made total sense to me -- in the ineffable way that "Serenade" does, which means it makes sense when you're watching it and evaporates with the applause -- was with the Kirov, and it was, I think, because those dancers had the same context for the ballet that Balanchine had: i.e., they had grown up dancing "Giselle" and had lived Romantic ballet. It's the only production I've seen where the repeats (especially the Men Guarding the Sylph) didn't seem like mere musical repeats.

[ 10-03-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#12 Natalia

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 09:41 AM

I attended for the first time last night -- Tues., Oct. 2, Program B (Sonnambula, Monumentum/Movements, Duo Concertant & Slaughter).

There were many positive points about the evening but Peter Boal in Duo Concertant was the absolute highlight for me. He was fleet-footed, highly musical and radiated charisma. [It is hard to believe that he just got off a plane, all the way from Japan, just before this performance - my goodness!] What's more, Boal was paired with his equal in energy & musicality - the delightful Natalia Magnicaballi. Woah - have they ever danced together prior to this evening? I sat in the front row for this performance & could see the little facial expressions between the two dancers; after every movement together, each would smile at the other in a funny way, as if to say, in amazement, "Wow - Did we just breeze through that section, or what?" They were perfect together, in technique, musicality & temperament. The small-but-enthusiastic audience really lit up and there were many 'bravos'...unfortunately, right before the dark & slow finale...ooops!!!! I guess that not too many folks are familiar with this ballet. But they yelled 'bravos' again at the end. :)

What else can I mention about last night? Everything else seems to fade somewhat. Ah, yes - Sonnambula was performed crisply. The lithe and lovely Chan Hon Goh is as fine a Sleepwalker as I've seen...I don't recall any of the recent NYCB ballerinas floating during the bourrees quite like Chan. Perhaps Allegra Kent, who I never saw in the role, conveyed the same effect? Chan was a true spirit of the air. As the Poet, Ben Huys performed admirably; together, Chan & Huys struck an emotional chord in the sleepwalking pdd. I did not hear any snickers among the audience (as Alexandra reported from another night).

I'm sorry that the divertissements were pared down - no "hoops" dance (the fourth divertissement) and only three performers in the Pastorale, rather than the four to which I'm accustomed. But what we saw was very capably performed...particularly the orientalistic pas de deux with willowy redhead Bonnie Pickard (what a physique!) and Washington Ballet's Runqiao Du, who displayed energy and personality to the max! The corps dancers were a real treat to see; each was really into his/her character and all displayed fine nuances that show the deft coaching of Farrell.

Monumentum/Movements - Runquiao Du displayed beautiful classiciam & fine partnering of Jennifer Fournier, who never quite 'let go' of a certain reserve and over-cautiousness. On the other hand, the six corps ladies in Movements were magnificent; two groups of three ladies each performed intricate patterns and formations. Throughout the ballet, these two clusters of corps dancers mirrored each others' movements amazingly. Honestly, I spent more time focusing on the six corps ladies...they were that good.

Slaughter - Sorry, I'm prejudiced, as this is close to my least-favorite Balanchine ballet. Fournier was OK - and ever 'let loose' a bit -- as the Strip Tease Girl and Ben Huys was fine as the Hoofer. Even though this was meant to be the "big ballet" of the evening, intended to send the audience home with a smile...I found myself wishing that Duo Concertant would have been the closer. By the time that Slaughter began, I had Boal/Magnicaballi etched in my mind & was not very receptive to anything that fell short of that standard...yeah, a bit unfair for Slaughter. I had a hard time shaking off the sublime effect of the earlier work.

All in all, an inspiring evening of first-class ballet.

[ 10-03-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

#13 cargill

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 02:53 PM

Jack, This is off topic, but there was a long and I thought interesting discussion of Scotch Symphony earlier on this board. I assume you can find it by searching the earlier postings. No, it doesn't really hold together as a story, but works, for me, at least, as a variety of moods, and it can be absolutely beautiful.

#14 kfw

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 09:30 PM

Does anyone remember where the Scotch Symphony discusion was? I searched and couldn't find.

#15 Jack Reed

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 11:03 PM

Kent's Sleepwalker sailed onstage as a force to be reckoned with, as I recall, and this was in keeping with the overall heightened level of energy and tension in the entire ballet that I tried to suggest above. I mean, she commanded the space before her as soon as she appeared. Goh's airiness is suitable in the sense that the Sleepwalker is remote, unreachable, and I admired and enjoyed her performances, but airiness is even better in "Scotch". There are things to like and enjoy in this "Sonnambula", but overall it's a promising sketch in need of filling in with color and shade.

I didn't see the Terrace Theatre performances and can't comment.

I wouldn't argue that "Slaughter" is a great ballet - maybe one of its virtues is that it doesn't obliterate the earlier parts of the program. Or is that a stretch? It can be great fun, with neat bits like the way the Stripper descends from the runway on the Hoofer's outstretched hand.

This evening I saw Boal in "Apollo" and spent the time wondering what he was trying to do. When his strength and power are contained within shape in slower movement, he enlarges the effect of the role, compared to Huys; but so often, he snaps and whips movements so that they are less visible, not more effective. And his shifting slightly during the Muses' variations may express active attention to them, compared to Huys's stationary pose, but it also distracts from them and draws attention to him, although his craning to see what Calliope has hidden, as she approaches him at the end of her variation, underlines that she has hidden what she wrote. Leigh's account of the circumstances of Boal's arrival may help to explain why his performance looked unsettled, especially when I remember hearing that his train from New York was late, so things were even worse than Leigh said, and I'll be interested to see how it develops. But at this point I prefer Huys overall in the role.

I'll see if I can find the "Scotch" thread in the archives, cargill, but my friend feels the need of a plot more than I do - I feel okay with Balanchine's way of evoking bits of story without linking them, and then some more appear, as appropriate to a particular musical passage but not necessarily continuing the earlier bits, as though he'd forgot. When I'd got fairly familiar with a ballet I was seeing often years ago, I would try to calm the worries of people I'd run into in the theatre who had loved the ballet they'd seen, marveled at the beauty of the dancing, but were sure they'd missed out on the story. We'd discuss the story bits they'd noticed and I'd assure them those were all there were, there wasn't a continuing narrative; but if they came to see it again - an idea that surprised many people who nevertheless said they returned to favorite restaurants, vacation spots, records, or even films, but thought they'd waste their money seeing the ballet twice even if they'd enjoyed it the first time - they'd see for themselves and enjoy it again, seeing it better, taking in more details.

No, now that I think about it, I'm not just okay with it, it's better than that - the element of mystery is part of the power of the best works - I tried to get at that above. At the same time the exercise of looking for a plot is valuable for bringing things out, even if no final "explanation" emerges. So, thanks for the tip, cargill.

(posted from Washington, D.C.)

[ 10-04-2001: Message edited by: Jack Reed ]


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