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Kennedy Center PerformanceNovember 22-27, 2005


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#31 Jack Reed

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Posted 24 November 2005 - 04:36 PM

Wednesday evening, Bonnie Pickard brougt her greater delicacy and nuanced dancing to La Source, although she is not the soubrette Kaufman correctly said the part needs, and Alexander Ritter brought more frequent plastic continuity to his part, and so the ballet benefitted. Being cast against type in the demi role may benefit Erin Mahoney-Du; with her l-o-n-g limbs, we see her well even from the balcony when she does make this go, but it was her dancing Tuesday night in the six-minute show-stopper, Clarinade, that was her great success and nearly worth the price of admission by itself, and I thought Natalia Magnicaballi less effective in that.

Shannon Parsley and Runqiao Du were a different, more forcefull and abstract couple in Duo Concertante than Magnicaballi and Prescott had been, with Du in particular clarifying positions which Prescott had left softer, such as the arm sweeps right when they begin to dance in the second number, which originally had the slightest pauses as though suggesting the motion of a clock hand; and the rest of Du's performance was "stretched" and more vivid, which suited his partner's more emphatic execution.

La Valse has the same cast throughout the run, so I will just say I agree with some previous comments and say that Ansanelli doesn't raise the level of the drama in this to the heights of, to cite a favorite example, Deanna Seay with MCB, whatever Ansanelli's other powers - and they are considerable - may be: Judging from this, she doesn't have the powers of dramatic imagination Seay does.

#32 Jack Reed

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Posted 24 November 2005 - 05:25 PM

Cheryl Sladkin's name rings a distant bell. Miami? Anyway, here's the current cast list, from the program:

Principals
Alexandra Ansanelli
Chan Han Goh (On Leave of Absence)
Natalia Magnicaballi
Runqiao Du

Soloists
Erin Mahoney-Du
Shannon Parsley
Bonnie Pickard
Momchil Mladenov
Matthew Prescott
Jared Redick
Alexander Ritter

Corps de Ballet
Erin Ackert
Gina Artese
Amy Brandt
Kristen Gallagher
Elisabeth Holowchuk
Ashley Hubbard
Sara Ivan
Evelyn Kocak
Katelyn Prominski
Lisa Reneau
Parise Sellitti
Lydia Walker
Ilona Wall
Brett Emmons
Ken Guan
James Reed Hague
Andrew Kaminski
Benjamin Lester
Neil Marshall
Eric Ragan
Alfiero Supan

Apprentices
Lauren Fitzpatrick
Kristin Ottestad
Joseph Bunn

#33 Jack Reed

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Posted 25 November 2005 - 01:22 PM

I'm coming back just for a moment to say that I recommend both Sarah Kaufman's review in the Washington Post and John Rockwell's in The New York Times. With their different emphases (although, in hard copy, with the same picture of Clarinade, one which I might not have chosen), they compliment each other, and both reflect the performances well. And yes, Rockwell's attending Farrell's opening instead of NYCB's may well be an apt implied criticism of that company. So those interested in what's going on here, read 'em both. (Where I referred to "previous comments" up above, I meant to include these two reviews as well as kfw's and others.)

The other thing on my mind is J. Russell Sandifer's lighting designs, which show considerable skill along with some overkill. In particular, they keep changing, in the contemporary manner, so that, in La Source, we see the principal woman's variations least well, the male's best, and the ensemble's more than adequately. This seems a pity, because we need to get what we can from the principal women (Parsley or Pickard, depending on the date), and we need to see them.

In fact, in Balanchine, if there's a rule, it's that what the woman does is the most important. It looks as though Sandifer might think that, here at least, soft, delicate dancing needs soft, delicate lighting, with areas of slight shadow, while bold, male dancing needs bold, bright light. With all respect to his ability to produce different not inappropriate lighting schemes, I would disagree, and sugggest that the first thing is to define and show the space in such a way that we can see the dancers dance, without the distraction of frequent changes, sometimes within numbers or movements or to underline things we get already, for example in the big crescendo in Clarinade, when the whole stage, up till then nicely lit by four big overlapping pools of white light, goes bright green until the music subsides again. At least, the dancers remain well illuminated through this.

La Valse became more episodic by this changing, and I'd be happier if one or two schemes could be chosen among the many used here, all of which reveal the dancing; it's the changing that distracts. Sandifer is from Florida State, not the Kennedy Center, which suggests to me that he and Farrell have had opportunity to collaborate, and that she has approved what he has done, so in disagreeing with Herself, I feel I'm out on a limb, but these are the ways the productions strike me. Anyway, it's only possible to disagree with someone who cares about the same thing as you do, right?

#34 oberon

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Posted 26 November 2005 - 12:13 PM

I cannot recall Ansanelli ever having danced LA VALSE at NYCB...since 1998, the role has been the property of Rachel Rutherford & Janie Taylor. Did Alex dance it earlier, while still in corps, or were the DC performances her first?

Did Farrell ever dance the Girl in LA VALSE? In her book she mentions dancing one of the "glove girls" (the Fates, as she calls them) but did she ever dance the principal role?

Jennifer Dunning covered NYCB's opening for the NY TIMES while Rockwell took the DC gig.

#35 Drew

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Posted 26 November 2005 - 12:24 PM

I saw Farrell dance the lead in the second section of La Valse--"the girl". That performance occured towards the end of her career and she didn't have as much sheer power as she had had earlier; but the overall dance-drama built up almost imperceptibly and at the end I found the performance pretty overwhelming. I had assumed she danced the ballet earlier in her career as well, but don't know. (Most of my ballet books continue to live in storage...)

#36 Dale

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Posted 26 November 2005 - 07:19 PM

Drew, I too saw it late in her career. Nobody has ever equalled in my live ballet going Farrell as she dives her hands into those gloves!

But I think I saw a picture of Farrell in La Valse from the 60s in a portfolio in Ballet Review....maybe... But I might be confusing it with one of McBride and Magalanes.

#37 zerbinetta

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Posted 26 November 2005 - 09:10 PM

Farrell was amazing in La Valse. There was an erotic charge as she greeted Death . She felt his presence before she saw him & swooned with his embrace. A willing participant. And, yes, as she dove into the gloves she nearly salivated with delicious greed.

Another astonishing Farrell performance which is vivid in memory.

#38 bobbi

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Posted 27 November 2005 - 05:01 AM

Zerbinetta, I totally agree about Suzanne being memorable in La Valse. But that's pretty much the way it was: once you saw her in anything (except the Piano Concerto and maybe her Sugar Plum), she became the gold standard that you can't get out of your head.

But back to this thread (sort of). I would have thought that AA would have made a much better coquette than sleepwalker; I guess she was cast because it's the more "glamour" role. In any event, I'm glad she's dancing some place.

#39 Jack Reed

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Posted 27 November 2005 - 08:11 AM

Watching this little season is one thing, very pleasant as the ballets come into better states of realization and as the dancers progress in their ability to realize them, but trying to write about it while it's going on is like trying to nail jelly to a tree, because everything changes as it goes along. Friday night, Shannon Parsley's second time in La Source as principal was so lovely she had good reason to show the joy she evidently feels in dancing, and Erin Mahoney-Du's second appearance in the demi role, on Saturday afternoon, was similarly improved, with arms - indeed all her movement - usually more supple, as this ballet requires, although she was not Pickard's equal in this part.

In the principal role both times Saturday, however, there were some tentative sequences in Pickard's second variation, flanked by dancing which was full and beautiful. In the afternoon, Pickard's partner was Jared Redick, compact but a little idiosyncratic, but I liked him the best of the four men because he articulated the most clearly the alternating details of his part - like quick turns with limbs held in, then slower ones with limbs extended - within its flow; and Saturday evening, there came the first change from the printed program when Pickard had Momchil Mladenov instead of Alexander Ritter with her. I was interested to see him get a second chance at this, because his first and only scheduled one, Friday evening with Parsley, was often vague, especially in his variations, but this evening there was much clarification and with it enlarged effect, he was again everything his partner needed (as the men nearly always are in this troupe), and dour fellow he often appears to be, he lightened up here, too.

Clarinade continued to be danced with Farrell-like phrasing and bold extensions by Erin Mahoney-Du with Mladenov. Another member of the NYCB Old Audience I met at intermission said, "When you look at her [dance it] you can see Suzanne" although I would add she didn't appear to be imitating, she just danced, large though contained. Magnicaballi gave a very satisfying if more modest account of it, whether with Mladenov onWednesday or with Matthew Prescott Friday and Saturday evening, but she has the disadvantage, for some of us, of the comparison. (In the last of the four sections I perceive in this little ballet, the place where the music cools down and becomes especially "blue" and where the references to marathon dancing appear, Prescott does back flips, landing noisily, behind Mahoney-Du where Mladenov does cartwheels.) This is not a substantial, deep, or intense ballet; Morton Gould's music mostly noodles along fluently without giving Balanchine much instruction or inspiration, and so it's a record of a fun time with his fascinating new star dancer, as Farrell was then. It goes nicely before Duo Concertant, which is a substantial ballet to a substantial score, although a little short by itself. Fortuitously, while the setup across the back of the stage for the 15-piece band (clarinet, saxophones, brass, percussion, and bass) for Clarinade can be accomplished during intermission, only a pause is needed evidently to take it out and set up for the onstage piano-and-violin accompaniment to Duo Concertant.

In Duo Concertant, I have liked best so far Shannon Parsley and Runqiao Du's performance on Saturday afternoon; it was simple, unaffected, clear, and true. Ansanelli's two performances, with Redick, were complicated by character touches added to dancing which projected well by virtue of consistently clear, strong line; Redick completed this matched couple with similar characterisation. (Remarkable how with such a small troupe Farrell consistently presents one matched set after another.) "Characterisation" was not added in the other two couples; it appeared there inherently. Friday night I prefered Ansanelli and Redick overall because of their strength of projection and clarity of articulation even if Redick hadn't quite matched Du's first one, but then Parsley and Du's second, more fully realized one won me over, and is the one I cherish having seen at this point (two more to go, with Magnicaballi and Prescott returning to it).

La Valse continued to come to itself; there are no cast changes, but the cast changes the way it infuses the ballet with its life. In the early waltzes, the couples are Pickard with Redick, Parsley with Prescott, and Magnicaballi with Du; this is low-key climactic casting, that is, each is more satisfying than the one before and benefits from who have preceded them. Magnicaballi, in the third couple, and who then does Sixth Waltz solo, was ravishing. Sometimes, the girls - Erin Ackert, Amy Brandt, and Erin Mahoney-Du - of Second Waltz get a good hand. This has looked quite good, and better and better with each performance, up through Seventh Waltz, and by Saturday afternoon I found it very satisfying ideed.

With The Girl in White's entrance in Eighth Waltz, things get tricky, and by Saturday afternoon, Ansanelli seemed to me to be phrasing so we could see a little better what she does, instead of, say, bending down and up in a blink, which had left me thinking about her abs of steel or maybe titanium instead of how The Girl feels about entering this place made eerie by the foregoing dances. By Saturday evening, though, I noticed that Ansanelli's way of showing character through specific detail was combining well with the choreography: Although she still threw a grin at us from one of her sequences of big jumps before Death's arrival, things like the little start she made when he put his hands on her waist, as though those hands were very cold, and the shy grin which flitted across her lowered face which told us how his offer of the black necklace had registered even though she was turned partly away from him seemed now to be things which arose from within her role and served to enliven it rather than looking added onto and detracting from it. (The hands diving into the gloves noted above came back Friday evening; hmm - I wonder how they all spent Thanksgiving?) Alexander Ritter nobly expressed consideration for her in life and, at the back, with her body draped over his knee, anguish at losing her in death.

Death was another big role for Mladenov - well, not as big as Don Quixote last July - and having seen a formless early stage of it at the open rehearsal Tuesday afternoon, I was even more impressed already that evening by the fullness and chillingly ominous power he brought to it. He begins, of course, to manipulate and control The Girl in White from the back of the stage by his slow, sweeping gestures, making her go from side to side at the front; and later closing in on her, not so much dancing with her as making her dance with him; putting his face into hers, he seems not so much looking at her as into and through her; this was part of the way he conveyed that Death is coldly disinterested in his victim.

#40 kfw

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Posted 27 November 2005 - 10:35 AM

It's very good to read your comments and careful observations, Jack.

As much as I admired Ansanelli's air of innocence and thrilled to the recklessness with which she threw herself into waltzing as the Girl in White, I thought her interpretation was unsettled in puzzling ways. I mentioned earlier that during the rehearsal she was taken aback when Death presented her the black bouquet, and that she'd omitted this reaction during the evening's performance. She showed no reaction again yesterday afternoon either when presented with the bouquet or as she sniffed them while she waltzed. Moments before, she'd at least had a moment's pause when she saw herself in the mirror.

Last night, after having to take extra effort to get the gloves on properly, she gave the flowers a longer look, and she registered concern when she sniffed them, but she had simply smiled when shown her image in the mirror. Mladenov was never creepier than when he skedaddled offstage after letting his partner fall dead from his arms. And Saturday night she really hit the deck.

As for Duo Concertant, I thought Ansanelli all but ruined the first movement by looking down at the piano lid and up in the air as if she was bored. Even she got around to looking at the pianist, she turned her head and eyes toward him in a slow, stagey way, as if he was the next thing in her line of vision, not as if she was interested in what he was doing. It was very odd. She danced it well, a little softer than Magnicaballi, my favorite, and Redick was a fine partner and showed the steps very clearly. Parsley and Du were splendid in the afternoon, except that temperamentally, in my opinion, they aren't matched. She's wonderfully sunny -- she manages to tone that down just enough in La Valse -- while he's more naturally ardent, even brooding. The last movement suited them best in that respect.

In the evening I thought Clarinade had much less impact as danced by Magnicaballi and Prescott. They’d been so very fine in Duo Concertant Tuesday, and they caught the spirit here, but this pas de deux is more about extensions (and off centered balances) than steps, and I thought of Balanchine saying that with tall dancers one can see more. It's hardly their fault, but after seeing the long and tall and marvelously confident Mladenov and Mahoney-Du, they reminded me of children taking on the big kids parts. It was nice to see, when Prescott did back flips where Mladenov does cartwheels, that Farrell gives her dancers the same sort of freedom Balanchine used to allow his dancers to occasionally change steps to what better suits them.

Mahoney-Du, so icily appealing in Clarinade, was a special pleasure again in La Source, radiant and very much at home in the joyous 2nd ballerina role, lacking only the calm center Pickard brought to the part opening night. In the evening she was calmer, and glorious. For her part, Pickard, surely a longtime favorite of anyone who has followed this company, danced with perhaps more authority than ever, with beautifully secure turns and balances.

Gratitude must be flow naturally from joy, and I always feel so grateful after a marvelously danced (and so well balanced) program like this. How fitting it is to have the Farrell company here this Thanksgiving season!

#41 Jack Reed

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Posted 27 November 2005 - 02:55 PM

Thanks for your comments, kfw. You caught a few details I missed, but we seem to agree on many things, like Ansanelli being some of this and some of that. Maybe she has a sense of that herself, a sense of needing to pull together into something, and that led her to seeing whether the nurture she seeks is available at the RB. Martins doesn't have much of a reputation for developing dancers, I believe. And that would explain at least her stopover with Farrell.

Speaking of details, Mladenov did one back flip and one cartwheel this afternoon. Is this a contest, I wonder? And in La Valse today, Ansanelli turned away from Death toward us to react after being offered the necklace and then turned back to him to accept it. I don't remember this part clearly enough from MCB last season to know whether it's her own novelty, as it now looks, or belongs to the part. Anyway, my memory tricked me when I wrote my last post.

One little question occured to me today about Clarinade. The dancers are already "out" when the curtain goes up, Matson, the conductor, is at the back with his back to them, so who cues the musicians? I think Mahoney-Du raises one hand, and the sax players start to play. A nice little expression of Balanchine's regard for Farrell's powers? She started the whole thing.

Yes, I feel thankful, too. Good program, good dancing. People came, and they liked it, too, especially La Valse, judging from the comments I've overheard. Farrell deserves her Honor. She deserves more than that, IMO, but she deserves that.

#42 OKOK

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 04:25 PM

I am new to ballet performances and the Washington area (my real love is figure skating, and the skaters I admire most are the more musical, "balletic" ones), and after having read Farrell's autobio, I was excited to have tickets to the rehersal on Tuesday before Thanksgiving. My mom and I went together, and we shared the same opinion of what we saw.

From reading the reviews above, I have to ask myself what I am missing, and I hope that some of you can offer suggestiong that may help me figure it out. I was completely underwhemed by the rehersal. The dancers -- without exception -- seemed unmusical, stiff, and, in the limited amount of other ballet I have seen, I have never heard such loud shoes. I saw nothing beautiful, genuinely expressive, or even impressive. I actually only saw La Source and part of Clarinade, and I was so sorely underwhelmed by that point that I left. I have had experienses in the past where I really have to give things a chance and let them grow on me, and I was/am hoping this will happen. I am hoping that some of you can offer some suggestions for how to let this happen. The performance I saw last month of the Washington Ballet in Serenade, Carmen, and Nine Sinatra songs was wonderful, and I was looking forward to seeing more of Balanchine, because I have read a good deal about him and his ballerinas. I thought La Source seemed like a parody and Clarinade was just sleazy, but not sleazy in a fun, fanciful, or suave way, but just ugly and the kind of thing you think you should look away from. I guess my bottom line is -- I saw absolutely nothing beautiful but many things to offend the senses, from the stiffness of the choreography to the lack of grace of the dancers to the costumes. In writing this, the word I have been trying to avoid because I think it sounds so cruel is "cheap," but I finally think I should just use the word because it sums up my overall impression of the ballets, the choreography, and the costumes. The thing is -- these dancers have to be quite talented to dance for Suzanne Farrell. I just don't understand what I am not seeing, given that so many are impressed and I am so unimpressed!

#43 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 04:46 PM

OKOK it seems to me you should judge ballet from perforances rather than rehearsals -- although I love SF's rehearsals

#44 zerbinetta

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 04:54 PM

It's probably safe to say that nothing should be "judged" from rehearsals. Singers, actors, dancers, musicians all may "mark" at rehearsals, especially if they are saving themselves for a performance that night or the next.

Observations may certainly be made but perhaps not critiqued in a public forum.

#45 OKOK

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Posted 28 November 2005 - 05:13 PM

Thank you for the comments, and I too had reservations about "judging" from rehersals. I realize that dancers mark, just as skaters run through programs without jumps or perhaps even compete, fall on jumps, but still make you think that the falls don't matter -- the choreography and musicality was otherwise first rate. I know there is a difference between skating and ballet. But you can see the foundation on which the finished performance will rest. I did not see any of that.


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