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Washington, DC, 3-7 March, 2010Haieff Divert, Donizetti Variations, Faun, Midsummer pas, Apollo, Agon


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#16 kfw

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 06:36 AM

In Haieff, the leads are in very pale green; this is apparent from two rows closer, while last night it looked more like they were not only in a different color from the others but their fabric looked a bit frosty, as though it might have some metal threads in it, or something. It's just an even more delicate shade than the corps.

Sarah Kaufman's rave review of Divertimento in today's Washington Post is accompanied by photos of that ballet and of Afternoon of a Faun.

#17 Jack Reed

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 08:14 AM

(from Washington, DC) There have been some good, trenchant reviews of opening night. George Jackson, on danceviewtimes, faulted the performances generally for being "muted", and Sarah Kaufman in today's "Washington Post", for needing polishing and for looking tentative, especially "Apollo" with Michael Cook, whom she faulted for lacking precision and presence, and I think they have a point or two. I didn't use the word "subdued" in my own remarks, but I could have, though not applying them equally to everyone. I think the performances will get more of the tutelage from Farrell that Kaufman thinks they need.

I think part of Cook's problem is that he has, in "Apollo", taken on a huge role. He certainly gives it energy, but his movement remains wild and clipped -- not inappropriate for the newborn Apollo -- and we don't see dancing so well when things happen so fast. In sleight-of-hand magic, "the hand is quicker than the eye", and things appear in mid-air, from the magician's sleeve; but in dance, things disappear if we don't get a chance to "read" them. It's not a matter of tempo; this Apollo is not too fast, if anything the opposite, though Thursday night I thought it was in better health musically than Wednesday. It's a matter of phrasing and inflection in dance movement.

Kaufman finds something basic to like: Writing about Faun, she finds it "clean, airy, and alive. No phoniness. (Come to think of it, this could be the tag line for Farrell's company.)" ... [Farrell] "doesn't have the cast she needs. Back in 1947" [the year of Divertimento] "Balanchine didn't yet have a full-time company, either. What a difference it made once he got one." This sense of possibility and of great potential on view echoes my own. Kaufman stops short of the m-word, which wouldn't be appropriate here, but I thank her very much all the same.

(She was sitting in the row in front of mine opening night. Notice she calls Kirk Henning's costume color "silver", which is the word I needed but didn't find. Not so pallid. Subtle color, depends on where you sit!)

#18 Juliet

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 08:25 AM

Beautiful 2 pictures in the Post online............

Excited to see performances tomorrow!!!

#19 kfw

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 08:35 AM

The company's blog has a photo of three corps dancers in costume for Divertimento.

#20 Jack Reed

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 08:53 PM

(from Washington, DC) Briefly, as the hour is late and I'm "fading", but the second program went on for the first time, and the pas de deux in Agon was very effective. In contrast to some renditions I've seen, where there are many moments where you wonder whether they're going to lose it, tonight Natalia Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov had more control than they needed, and so they could dance the whole time, and I don't mean a performance of a performance, either; as Kaufman said, there's no phoniness in this company.

For instance, at the moment where he is partnering her standing, facing her, and turns under her arm to lie on his back on the floor, maintaining their grip, it has sometimes happened elsewhere (but not here) that she has to come down off pointe early because she is losing her balance, or something; here, she could have stayed up for some time longer than the music provided. Their control enabled them to take this well beyond mere mechanical execution, and give it presence and projection. The audience gave it a good hand at the time, which they scarcely acknowledged, in keeping with the character of the ballet, which used to get applause exactly twice in my first experience of it, in the early '70s: After this pas de deux, and at the end. (Tonight the pas de trois casts took their applause on finishing, too.)

Most of the rest of the ballet was also clean and certainly alive, as was the opening Donizetti Variations, if a little -- subdued? But beautifully detailed, not didactically, or over-etched, as though to demonstrate something, but to enliven. Kendra Mitchell and Momchil Mladenov led it beautifully; I could fault only the trumpet-solo "joke" for being less effective than sometimes, other places.

Faun had Elisabeth Holowchuk's large-scale dancing and strongly effective flow-through, with Kirk Henning's able partnering; the Midsummer adagio got a grander, maybe darker, rendition tonight from Natalia Magnicaballi with Michael Cook (subbing for Ted Seymour) than the brighter one by Violeta Angelova, with Mladenov, which I thought was the loveliest thing up to that point on the other program. That audience seemed to agree.

#21 Helene

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 09:13 PM

The company's blog has a photo of three corps dancers in costume for Divertimento.

Thank you for the link, kfw! The dancer on the right, Chelsea Saari dances with Ballet Arizona, and she was wonderful as one of the fates in "La Valse" last year.

#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 08:15 PM

(from Washington, DC) It's not been unusual in the past with this troupe that they continue to improve as the run goes on, and that may account for my sense that I saw Michael Cook's rendition of "Apollo" much better this evening (Friday 5th March) and so, enjoyed it quite a lot this time. It seemed more controlled without losing any energy, and so, clarified. And there were stretches of music that were much better realized than before, too, it seemed to me this evening, including a turbulent passage with changing rhythms in Apollo which is not played clearly even on the composer's last recording, although the composer's tempos are faster.

#23 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 02:08 PM

(from Washington, DC) Another entry in the it-just-keeps-getting-better category: Elisabeth Holowchuk's solo in Haieff Divertimento was well lit this afternoon! Overall, the stage remained dim and cool, but she had the benefit this time of a soft-edged follow spot and a little warm-toned side lighting, so her figure was not only brighter but rounded. Holowchuk, not incidentally, is the shortest of the five women in this, as we see when they're all in a line across the stage, but when she moves, she's taller, and has more reach. Not by a lot; but it's the trick -- or accidental result -- of her line(s) seeming to run off her fingers and toes into her space. Anyway, this number -- her last performance of it Washington -- was specially enjoyable this time.

Momchil Mladenov subbed for Kirk Henning in Faun, with Natalia Magnicaballi, so we had the major treat we'd had before. Everything he does makes kinetic sense, for especial instance the second of the short sequences of moving his bent arms around close to his head, downstage on our right, glancing up for an instant, before he moves audience left to show us his desire to caress his partner's hair. Both he and Cook have the same time to do this, but Cook seems to rush it, and it doesn't "read", although there is much else to enjoy from Cook in this.

Henning turned up subbing for Mladenov in the Midsummer adagio, ably partnering Angelova as before; and I found this maybe a bit brighter too, in terms of lighting, and as rich in its bright way, as Magnicaballi's in its "darker" way. I happen slightly to prefer Angelova in this. If Magnicaballi senses a deeper something in it, she hasn't quite shown it, or I haven't caught it.

#24 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 08:07 PM

(from Washington, DC) I might have added to the above post that the level of musical performance also belongs in the it-just-keeps-getting-better category: Nearly everything sounded more clarified, nuanced, more bold as appropriate in places. In this evening's Agon, though some perspective was achieved, it left the most room for improvement; but this is probably the most difficult piece to play in the run, by some margin.

Kendra Mitchell led Donizetti Variations with Momchil Mladenov this evening, and I felt she didn't quite rise to her own previous level, though overall it was a great opener, inspiring the lady next to me to some enthusiasm: "That was a fine start!" or something like that. (A few days ago, after Haieff Divertimento, I heard some one next to me remark to her companion, "I didn't think I'd like that," but the following discussion showed they both had been pleasantly surprised. Similar remarks came after Faun. In general, people like what they saw, sometimes surprising themselves, and the matinees were very well attended, at least on the main floor.)

Faun was led by Holowchuk with Kirk Henning (subbing for Michael Cook), who gave a good, legible performance which suffered a little by comparison with Mladenov's, however. It's a little late in the game, but I think a line in the program identifying the place where the ballet takes place as "a room with a mirror" as we used to read years ago would be an easy improvement next time; I remember taking some pleasure in realizing the dancers aren't staring at us, but at themselves.

Cook subbed for Mladenov (these are all announced by slips in the programs, not by public address, and without explanation) in the Midsummer adagio with Natalia Magnicaballi, and it was another fine, if slightly mysterious or shadowed rendition.

Then the last Agon, and, like most of the others, a very fine one it was, featuring not only a strong pas de deux by Magnicaballi and Mladenov but distinguished dancing in the rest of it. I thought Elisabeth Holowchuk was subtly outstanding in the first pas de trois and Violeta Angelova quite distinguished in the second. The attentive audience, not quite so large as in the afternoon, was warm to it, including the humorous moments.

#25 Farrell Fan

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Posted 07 March 2010 - 09:14 PM

Thanks for the reports from Washington, Jack. It's been fun keeping up with the season in this way

#26 Jack Reed

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 07:31 AM

You're welcome! I don't feel quite done, as I have things I haven't written about and might yet, at the risk of making this more fragmentary than it is, but your remark encourages me. And there's the open rehearsal I have a few things to say about, and not least, for me anyway, a reception which I can't post about in detail in public, but maybe courtesy and board rules will allow me to say Suzanne was quicker-witted -- I mean funny -- than I have seen her before. And that's going some! Her high spirits were an added joy.

#27 Jack Reed

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 06:12 PM

There was a brief discussion with some dancers after the Saturday matinee, 6th March, moderated by Kim Kokich; the format consisted of her offering questions to the small panel of dancers, who passed a wireless mic back and forth. I'm sorry I've lost the questions, but I managed to scribble down some of the answers which seemed to me to offer insights into how Farrell and her dancers work together.

(With luck, we may find video, or just audio?!, of this on the Kennedy Center web site. Or more buried, on the Suzanne Farrell Ballet blog, (http://www.farrellballetblog.org/), or suzannefarrellballet.org, or farrellballet.org, or "Backstage at The Suzanne Farrell Ballet", (http://www.kennedy-c...notesarch07.cfm), to mention some of the recent internet initiatives the company has made, or so I gather from a supporter's meeting I attended. There was no actual sign of this, except for the mics, but there is a technical booth in these theatres which could conceal recording.)

Meanwhile, here is what I managed to get down:

Natalia Magnicaballi: ...an' now I can't live without working with her...

Elisabeth Holowchuk: Musicality? Being on time, partner with the music... She encourages individuality; she coaches me and Natalia Magnicaballi differently. She'll say, "This isn't right for you, you do this."

Kirk Henning: [she talks about] the scope of the thing you're doing -- being an artist -- [it's] not robot technique.

Magnicaballi: Sometimes she doesn't have to say anything, she just looks at you, or [holds up a hand with splayed fingers]... We're with her twelve hours a day.

The audience had a few pretty standard questions, like, What age did you start? Henning: I started ballet late, at 17, but I started [gymnastics?] and tap at [7?]... Do you have your shoes made for you? Ladies? Holowchuk: Yes, we do...

At 4:00, Kokich closed the discussion, saying, They have to rest and prepare. (Sorry for the sketchiness of this; other BTers in attendance, please round this out!)

Edited by Jack Reed, 09 March 2010 - 06:24 AM.


#28 kfw

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 08:04 AM

Thanks for your faithful reporting, Jack. It's always a treat to read your thoughts day by day as the run continues and the ballets are plumbed more deeply.

I'm surprised that Macaulay found Apollo "the finest achievement" of the season and Agon the weakest, because I experienced it as just the opposite. Both ballets are great favorites of mine but most of the performances I've seen of Agon in full have left me wanting. This one was vivid all the way through. Magnicaballi and Mladenov have been splendid in the pas de deux before, but naturally they had even more impact this time in context.

When I see Robbins ballets these days I always wonder what Robbins would think of the staging. Magnicaballi danced Afternoon of a Faun with Ben Huys here 2001, and she and Mladenov did it in 2003, but as with Agon, I don't remember seeing a more riveting performance. I loved the way she first appeared in the doorway fastening her sash -- a detail not rendered in the Farrell-Mofid performance on You Tube. I loved the way he cut his eyes towards her as they stood apart on either side of the stage; they stood there long enough before they stretched towards each other that it really registered. And earlier, when he was doing his warmup stretches, he briefly stretched his head in a way that Mofid doesn't that was beautifully reminiscent of Nureyev's faun in L'Après-midi d'un Faune, giving an extra visual linking to those two ballets that of course are linked historically.

In Apollo I found Cook more convincing as a young god than a mature one -- more fierce than noble in the end, although of course the qualities aren't mutually exclusive. I especially loved how ardent the muses were -- Magnicaballi even seemed to have tears in her eyes by the end -- making clear that they too were moved by Apollo's journey to manhood. Magnicaballi was marvelously intense in Agon and so in character in Faun, but here I wanted more personality to distinguish her as Terpsichore, and I thought her lack of height worked against her as well. There are three Apollo photos on the company blog.

I saw the 1983 revival [of Haieff Divertimento] by NYCB. I did not see the Kansas City Ballet reconstruction. I felt that it was a lovely ballet but that the leads (who did the entire run, I believe) were miscast. They were Nilas Martins and Wendy Whelan. Both performed it from very abstractly, no perfume (for lack of a better word).

I wish NYCB had kept this in repertory, but given that lack of perfume and characterization in that production, perhaps it isn't surprising they didn't. Henning and Holowchuk were real characters, and Holowchuk has a wry and winsome but still mysterious air about her that fit it very well. I loved this ballet and its score from start to finish, and it had a number of striking moments that I, at least, didn't recognize from other Balanchine ballets.

I missed the presence of Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott this season, but I hope to see Violeta Angelova and Kendra Mitchell for years to come.

#29 Jack Reed

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 02:12 PM

Glad to read your thoughts, kfw. While Macaulay's review was very valuable, I thought it a little odd in couple of places. We're all different; that's one place the value lies.

Is the Farrell-Mofid Faun up on YouTube? Those who want to see it may find it only here, as I did:

http://www.iranian.c...08/afshin-mofid

#30 emilienne

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:19 PM

[I will write my impressions of the Saturday matinee and night performances, but academic commitments prevent me from posting them immediately. I hope to be as incoherent and obsessed with detail as I ever was when I finally do post.]

This is the Q&A following the Saturday matinee performance. I moved down and waved my hands wildly (thanks kfw) but unfortunately was not selected to ask a question. In general, the Q&A skipped very lightly over the introduction of the dancers and their training. I wanted more thoughtful discussion over the rehearsals and limitations of working in what is still essentially a pick-up company, albeit a rather illustrious one.

I also took a picture of the dancers on-stage, but perhaps I will consult board regs before I attempt to post it.

The dancers:
Kendra Mitchell, Elizabeth Holowchuk, Kirk Henning, Jessica Lawrence, Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook

1. When were the dancers taken into the company?
NM: 1999 October - she had a broken foot and sent in a video audition, receiving a call afterwards asking to meet?

2. Being rather young dancers, how did they hear about Farrell?
KH: By reputation. Working in dance - Farrell's name is everpresent. He is not from SAB, but while he was in the Richmond Ballet, he was recommended by Richard Gallagher (?).

EH: She transitioned into the program in 2001.

3. What's it like to work with Farrell?

General consensus of it being 'amazing'.
Rehearsals emphasize musicality (moderator asks - the beat? the interpretation?)
The beat is of course 'on time', but while the step is the same, the interpretation is allowed to differ.

i.e. Faun - different instructions tailored to different bodies
Farrell has 'the eye' - allows dancers to be different, and in fact desires it.

KH: Farrell "crafts us" into better dancers. She emphasizes the scope of performance and of choreography - giving us a better vision of what we are performing, but it's all done in the context of 'just' steps.

MC: First time performing Apollo (Saturday night) = personalized private instructions for him

NM: No need for words - she 'looks at you' and you know what she's thinking (other dancers agree!). Notes that during the season, they are working 12 hour days (they started at 10 AM Saturday), while Farrell works even longer.

---

Audience questions:
1. Does your interpretation change as dancers move through a role?
KH: 'steals' from performance qualities of other dancers. You see something you like by someone else and try it out to see how it works on your own body.

JL: this is first year dancing as a pro - so during rehearsals she is busy observing other dancers, particularly Natalia, learning different things that they are doing to incorporate into her own dancing

KM: each dancer is different - different performances of the same steps. Farrell is not so much interested in a uniform interpretation (KH, I think, cuts in here by cheekily adding "united individuality").

2. When did the dancers get into ballet?

MC: 5
NM: 7, but 'seriously' at age 9
JL: 4 or 5, 10 seriously
KH: acrobatics and tap at age 8, ballet at age 17
EH: 6 or 7
KM: jazz and tap at age 7, ballet at 11

The last question was about feet care and the prospect of customized shoes (yes, individual makers). The moderator then noted that the dancers needed to get ready for the evening performance and ended the Q&A there.


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