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Jack Reed

Washington, DC, 3-7 March, 2010

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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.

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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-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/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

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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.

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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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Wow! Thanks, emilienne! My post is barely an appetizer for that one! Looking forward to that image being allowed.

But as to the pickup-company aspect, I think there is on one hand the problem that they're not together as long as they might be, as Kaufman pointed out, and on the other hand the fact that a lot of the dancers Farrell "picks up" each season are the same people.

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But as to the pickup-company aspect, I think there is on one hand the problem that they're not together as long as they might be, as Kaufman pointed out, and on the other hand the fact that a lot of the dancers Farrell "picks up" each season are the same people.

You are right, Jack, but I wonder about learning and rehearsing new pieces. How much does familiarity smooth out the rough edges and how much do they simply have to wing it (particularly for the new corp members)? I noticed some continued partnering problems in Haieff that could be lack of rehearsal time or simply lack of familiarity between the dancers...

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6 March 2010, 1:30 PM

Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

Orchestra R109

I would like to gibber incoherently for a moment at the truly excellent quality of dancing by the company. These dancers seem genuinely happy to be dancing, and that joy permeated their performance and made their steps glow.

Donizetti Variations is a piece that, were I to hear it too many times, would likely incite me to shoot my stereo system. On a faint acquaintance, however, it is merely relentlessly happy and looks as if the Paquita grand pas de deux had been transplanted into Act One of Giselle. The May Queen (Kendra Mitchell) welcomed us to view her courtiers (romanticised peasants all) as they showed off their fine ankles and calves in various permutations of humanity.

Mitchell's May Queen was content to let her court frolic, but her courtiers knew that they celebrated at her sufferance. For those slightly unclear, one good solo soon settled who was boss. In comparison, Michael Cook's performance was less authoritative. The technical demands of his solo looked as if they had defeated him, but his determination to _finish_ reminded me of Albrecht amidst the Willis. The trumpet joke, as Jack noted, was muted, but it worked out fairly well once the audience figured out what was going on.

There's nothing quite like a beautiful set of muscles rippling into awareness as the Faun began his exercises for the day. Mladenov, substituting for Henning, capitalized on his height in every languid stretch and pose, creating stark shapes that resonated in afterimages long after the performance ended. This Faun was clearly and comfortably the ruler of his little domain, but it was clear that he wanted (or anticipated) something unexpected to break up the monotony.

Mirroring Mladenov's anticipation, Magnicaballi carried herself like an unfurled flag. I thought she nearly vibrated with suppressed excitement as she entered the studio, subtly shifting the Faun's fascination from his reflection to the awareness of something 'other' (and similarly beautiful) in those mirrors. Their awareness of each other was like a physical entity keeping them in orbit around each other, which in turn seemed to diminish the initial impact of meeting each other's eyes due to its inevitability. Instead, the real shock was reserved for the moment that they managed to break their study of each other, back to a less complicated admiration of their reflections together. When the Girl finally flees, it seemed like an affirmation, of both rejecting the complication and intensity of being together. Instead the Faun goes back to sleep, content with a faint memory of the girl and the dangerous temptation of kissing.

Violeta Angelova and Ted Seymour substituted for the Act II pas de deux from Midsummer. The choreography is unexpectedly delicate despite the difficult partnering, and seemed to show (with greater feats of trust in each other) that the dancers' affections and destinies are intertwined. I would like to say more, but unfortunately was defeated by the lighting, with whom I was in unwitting competition.

Agon, already difficult musically, was more than a little off in my only viewing this weekend. The trumpet was ahead in the music in spots and the woodwinds' tuning seemed wholly discordant instead of merely dissonant. The first pas de quatre opened with a short definition of open and closed positions and needed greater clarity from synchronisation. Overall the corp gave a very competent performance. The choreography flowed organically though I think some of the shapes (amidst the confusion of limbs) could be, again, better defined.

In the first Pas de Trois, Michael Cook danced on the edge of restraint. If this were a contest then he definitely won in energy but not refinement against Holowchuk and Brandt. In fact this was a recurring theme throughout the two performances that I saw - that he had the _idea_ of execution, but that his performance of it wasn't as clear as his energy alone would allow.

Violeta Angelova shone in the second pas de trois. Her Bransle Gay flowed languidly from one position from another, achieving impossibly etched positions and sharp angles without becoming staccato in her phrasing. The juxtaposition was a great reading of the choreography and marks it as a performance to remember.

Mladenov and Magnicaballi are well-matched in essentials, both being long of limbs and bursting with dance intelligence. They did not dance the pas de deux as a competition in brute strength and flexibility (and given the advances in training over the past fifty years, nor should they), but instead treated it as an challenge in projecting ambiguity. Who dictates the moves? Who decides what comes next?

The pas began as a simple contest between Mladenov and Magnicaballi in asserting dominance, with Magnicaballi willingly - even gladly - losing. But as Magnicaballi is bent into a back attitude against Mladenov's shoulder, she bends just a bit further and presses into his face. Mladenov flinched, as if realizing (with more than a little apprehension) that perhaps his victory had not been as clear-cut nor as desirable as he had thought.

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(My notes for the evening's program are less precise. For some reason, I was given a program to the Mariinsky Opera's production of War and Peace and not to the ballet, so I have no idea of the substitutions, particularly as the distance of my seat made it difficult to see faces. Please correct me if I am wrong, horribly or otherwise.)


6 March 2010, 7:30 PM

Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

Orchestra X107

While I consider Row R in the Eisenhower Theater a perfect fit in height and distance from the dancers, Row X was also acceptably wonderful. The overhanging promenade compressed my view of the stage, but the additional rise at X made it easier to observe spatial depth between different layers of choreography.

Haieff Divertimento, on its own merits, is not a strong opening to the evening's program. For that matter, it is not particularly a masterpiece. The music meanders in subtle undulations, the choreography seems to squeeze unfinished segments of familiar ballets together, and the ending comes as a bit of surprise (what, already? what happened?). I think at intermission I mentioned to Jack that it seemed like a doodle, albeit one that we gladly pay to see!

Four couples in minty turquoise frame a lone cavalier in white as he tries to fill a couple's role by himself. It's an interesting conceit - man without woman trying to fill the place of two, but he doesn't quite know what is missing. Henning looked uncertain in this opening section, and I wasn't sure whether this was due to personal choice or choreography but am inclined to think the latter.

The two dance an idiosyncratic duet, replete with pawing motions of the feet, lightbulb hands from Apollo, and a whole section that seemed lifted from 4Ts. Holowchuk's solo was beautifully soft, that is, what I could discern of it in the mid-to-late evening lighting. The finale would have worked more effectively had I a better idea of what solo contribution Woman (or at least Holowchuck) brought to this gathering. Henning seemed genuinely startled when his girl spun away from him and jetéd off for parts and peoples unknown. Don't go, he seemed to say, I know what I'm missing now.

Faun was danced by Michael Cook and Natalia Magnicaballi this evening. The changed partnership presented a completely different character than the Mladenov/Magnicaballi pairing at the matinee. Cook was a youthful Faun, still searching out and testing the boundaries of his domain. Unlike this afternoon, Magnicaballi entered quietly, almost apprehensively, in anticipation of the strange unfinished creature that she would find within.

The entire performance projected a youthful innocence about their fascination with the mirrors that suggested that, with time and experience, their narcissism may yet be mastered by their mutual attraction to each other. After the duet and kiss, the Girl exits quietly while Cook's Faun lingers over the experience - they need time and distance to think, but who knows what will happen when we're no longer looking?

Repetition inevitably entails comparison. Cook is a shorter, stockier Faun than Mladenov, and must work harder to achieve clarity in shapes that his technique or inexperience does not yet allow. There could also be more modulation to delineate highs and lows in his performance. Cook draws our attention to the Faun's thinking, his hesitation in deciding how to approach the Girl (or whether he should at all), that Mladenov's near-electric affinity to Magnicaballi obscures.

Another beautiful performance from Angelova and Seymour in the Act II pas de deux. Once again I am prevented from saying more due to the murky lighting.

There was a moment in Apollon Musagete when I chanced to look around and realised that the theater was completely silent for perhaps the first time that evening. What a moment to remember.

The Muses (K Draxton as Calliope, V Angelova as Polyhymnia, N Magnicaballi as Terpischore) gave very musical performances, though there seemed to be some disagreement (sometimes within the same solo) as to whether their depictions should be naturalistic or impressionistic. Draxton in particular seemed indecisive about the source from which her words emanated. Magnicaballi was a very sensitive but subdued Terpsichore, submerging herself in the music. The woman herself was less substantial in character. Angelova ran into a bit of danger in the triple pirouettes to arabesque - she went valiantly after triples but did not always finish cleanly - but her phrasing impressed once again. She took a horrific belly-flop to the floor in Coda - unfortunately amplified by microphones placed in the strings - and looked disoriented as she picked herself up slowly, but rejoined her fellow dancers and finished without a noticeable difference in the quality of her performance.

This was Michael Cook's debut as Apollo and it was clear that he has an idea of how to develop the character. However, he needs to work harder to define levels and shapes with his body. His Apollo in infancy was youthful and wild, and he wasn't able convey character development to a point where either of these qualities were mastered. The Muses give him obeisance but it was clear that their submission was somewhat voluntary. He is called to ascend Mount Olympus, but taking his rightful place will be a challenge. I look forward to seeing what he does with Apollo in the future.

After the performance, Jack remarked (edited to add - with tongue firmly in cheek, eyes twinkling!) that Apollo was 'not bad' for twenty-four year old choreographer. I think I replied that it wasn't a bad effort for a choreographer of any age. Overall, a most satisfactory ballet weekend in DC. Always a pleasure to run into fellow BTers, and hopefully, see you again in November!

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Jack remarked that Apollo was 'not bad' for twenty-four year old choreographer.

I said that? Ouch! That's almost as embarrassing as reading an old post -- which I could have revised beforehand -- and wondering the same thing. I hope my tongue was in my cheek!

Thank you very much for joining in again. I certainly agree with kfw. It's another occasion to remark on how our discussions of this ephemeral art here, and in the aisles and foyers, can amplify our amazement: The eye of man hath heard, the ear of man hath seen, what my dream was.

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Jack remarked that Apollo was 'not bad' for twenty-four year old choreographer.

I said that? Ouch! That's almost as embarrassing as reading an old post -- which I could have revised beforehand -- and wondering the same thing. I hope my tongue was in my cheek!

Fear not, it was said with tongue firmly in cheek. I think we were both feeling quite punchy after an excellent performance.

And before I forget, the photograph from the Q&A.

I need to look up how one attaches a photo, but in the meantime, have a link:


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Thank you for linking to the photo, emilienne.

:wink: In general, members cannot post photos directly to BalletTalk. Only admins and, because of his extensive and fascinating personal collection, rg have that ability. Otherwise, the expense of bandwidth would skyrocket. You did it the right way. :wub:

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My thanks, too, emilienne. And for those who weren't there, the dancers in the photo are seated left-to-right as they are identified in emilienne's Post #30, above; the woman with the microphone is Kim Kokich.

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