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Farrell Ballet at Jacob's Pillow July 5-9, 2006

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The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

performs an All-Balanchine program

in its Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival debut

July 5-9, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will make its Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival debut in a limited six-performance engagement in the Ted Shawn Theatre, July 5-9, in Becket, Mass. with an all-Balanchine program. The program includes La Source, music by Léo Delibes; the “Contrapuntal Blues pas de deux” from Clarinade, music by Morton Gould originally composed for Benny Goodman (Derivations for Clarinet and Jazz Band); Tzigane, music by Maurice Ravel and Divertimento No. 15, music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In a related free event and rare public appearance, Suzanne Farrell, one of George Balanchine’s most celebrated muses, will answer questions at an hour-long discussion about her role as a teacher and artistic director in perpetuating Mr. Balanchine’s legacy and the future of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet on Sommerspace at Blake’s Barn on Sat., July 8 at 4pm.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet had its beginning in the fall of 1999 when Ms. Farrell presented the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ special production for the Millennium Season, Suzanne Farrell Stages the Masters of 20th Century Ballet. The works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Maurice Béjart took on a new life with Ms. Farrell and her company. In the fall of 2000, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet made its debut during the Kennedy Center’s Balanchine Celebration. In 2005, as the Kennedy Center’s own company, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is claiming a place among the nation’s finest ensembles and preserving classic works of the 20th century. The Washington Post notes that the company “tackles difficult ballets with a fearless zest and makes them seem fresh and alive.” In addition to making its Jacob’s Pillow debut, the company will make its debut at the Edinburgh International Festival, Aug. 26-29, with the European premiere of Balanchine’s Don Quixote.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performs in the Ted Shawn Theatre, Wed., July 5 to Sun., July 9. Performances are Wed. through Sat. evenings at 8pm with 2:00pm matinees on Sat. and Sun. Tickets are $50. A 10% discount is available to seniors, students and youth age 13 and under. Tickets can be purchased by calling (413/243-0745), faxing (413/243-0749) or ordering online (www.jacobspillow.org). Jacob’s Pillow is located on George Carter Road in Becket, Mass., 10 minutes east on Route 20 from Mass Pike Exit 2.

Jacob’s Pillow, located in the town of Becket in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, was originally the Carter family farm in the 1700s, and in the 1800s served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Its pioneering spirit was furthered in 1933, when legendary dancer, teacher and choreographer Ted Shawn founded the Festival as a showcase for his company of Men Dancers and as a home for dance in the U.S. Jacob’s Pillow now encompasses an acclaimed international Festival (the first and longest-running dance festival in the U.S.), a professional School, rare and extensive Archives open to the public free of charge, an Intern Program, year-round Community Programs and a Creative Development Residency program. The site, declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003, includes 161 acres, 31 buildings, three unique stages (including the first theater in the U.S. built specifically for dance), three dance studios, exhibition spaces, restaurants, the Pillow Store, residential housing, administrative offices, a health center, gardens, trails and woodlands. The Pillow presents dance from all over the world in all forms, styles and traditions, plus approximately 200 free events each season, including performances, lectures, tours, film showings, exhibits and talks with artists from all over the world, which attract approximately 80,000 visitors annually.

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Thanks for that, Alexandra! (It's good to know you're around.) I had no idea Jacob's Pillow was quite that extensive, never having been there, though I find now that the map on their website shows 26 buildings, by my count. My other comment, a footnote to the ticket information, is that the Saturday matinee performance (8th July) has been sold out for about a month.

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NOTE *corrected cast identification! (apologies to all for my mistakes)

(from Lee, Massachusets, about 10 miles west of Jacob's Pillow) The troupe has twenty dancers here currently, about enough to present the small-cast repertory suited to the small stage in the Ted Shawn Theatre, but not quite enough to cover completely, on short notice, for the injuries we all know can occur, so that last evening's program was somewhat truncated, as we shall see, although opening night, Wednesday, was reportedly given completely; I was laid up that evening, and missed it, however. (I anticipate a complete presentation tonight.) So:

La Source opened, with Shannon Parsley and Momchil Mladenov as principals and Bonnie Pickard in the demi role; I would have to say it was intermittently effective, with some principals' sequences looking as though they might be favoring something physically, especially Mr. Mladenov early on, and then there would be some passages beautifully and effectively shown that exemplified why we go to the ballet, making you literally thrilled that such movement could be devised so appropriately to that music, and then the music would repeat and the movement would be different and an even better complement to the musical thought. Ms. Parsley's later variation in particular impressed me this way.

After intermission, the Clarinade pas de deux, with, I believe, Elisabeth Holowchuk, and *Benjamin Lester, a member of the troupe new to me. (The printed program had it differently, but there was no announcement other than a placard outside I missed in the crowd.) This was a more careful rather than abandoned rendition than the one by Erin Mahoney-Du and Mr. Mladenov I saw at the Kennedy Center last November.

After a pause, Tzigane, led by Natalia Magnicaballi, who is cast in all the performances, partnered this time by Runqiao Du; this was the most fully and completely achieved work so far, I'd say, and the audience really warmed to it.

After intermission, Divertimento No. 15 excerpts: The Allegro music was played as an overture, after which we got the Theme and Variations, which was, inevitably, stronger in some variations than in others, and to conclude, the Andante, which was quite lovely throughout, even by Ashley Hubbard and *Erin Ackert who had looked less well-favored in the variations (First and Fourth respectively), and this brought the evening to a strong and well-appreciated conclusion.

More when I have a chance.

Edited by Jack Reed
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In anticipation of the usual questions, here's the cast list, from the printed program:

Featured Artists:

Ashley Hubbard

Natalia Magnicaballi

Erin Mahoney-Du

Shannon Parsley

Bonnie Pickard

Runqiao Du

Momchil Mladenov

Artists of the Corps de Ballet:

Erin Ackert

Gina Artese

Amy Brandt

Kristen Gallagher

Elisabeth Holowchuk

Sara Ivan

Katelyn Prominski

Lisa Reneau

James Reed Hague

Ian Hussey

Andrew Kaminski

Benjamin Lester

Neil Marshall

*NOTE: Evelyn Kocak arrived Thursday (?) to replace Erin Mahoney-Du

Edited by Jack Reed
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Thanks for the report and the roster, Jack. Mostly familiar names and some new ones -- but no more so than for any established company. This is certainly no "pick-up" group. Sorry you were incapacitated for the first performance, but glad you're back in action. Looking forward to your next report.

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Thanks, Jack. Much appreciated. I get the impression that when the dancers were comfortable in La Source they took it to higher heights than they did at the Kennedy Center last fall. I'm happy for Shannon Parsely! Were Mahoney- Du and Mladenov cast in Clarinade at all this week?

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(from Lee, Massachusetts) Yikes! I messed up some of the the cast identifications above, so if you're just checking here, also check my corrected posts. Juliet is right about Erin Mahoney-Du, sad to say; I was looking forward to seeing her, too.

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(from Lee, Massachusetts) Last night's performance was sensational! The short version is that everything was as good as the best of Thursday evening, and much was better than that!

That high level was attained as soon as the curtains opened on La Source. Bonnie Pickard has done Source before, and looks born to it: Nuanced and subtle, she nevertheless had a (low-key) friendly smile for her fine partner, Runqiao Du, and soon included us in her happy gaze. Shannon Parsley was the demi; normally a bold and direct dancer I have often admired, here she debuted in this more ornamented role. What a debut! She looked quite happily at home in it, and I look forward to seeing this cast again.

Elisabeth Holowchuk and Benjamin Lester gave a considerably more energized Clarinade this time, rising to near recklessness in the musical crescendo just before the quieter ending, where they make their way off stage like exhausted marathon dancers. This was not quite on the level of Mahoney-Du and Mladenov that I recalled, but more appropriate than last night. Holowchuk was deadpan all the way through, but as she took in our enthusiasm, she broke into a grin.

Then, Tzigane, with Mladenov crisply showing in his characterization, as distinct from his apparently flawless partnering, a little contempt for the smoldering Magnicaballi, who replied with sultry glances across the stage as though challenging him. A smoky performance!

Mladenov cooled himself a little for the complete Divertimento, which belied the "porcelain" label it sometimes gets, in this supple, flowing, living performance, in which Erin Ackert again replaced Mahoney-Du. Again I was struck by the Andante's surprising beauty after some hints of stress in the Variations, but evidently that comes with the territory: The Andante is slower, and each woman has a partner to support her. Seeing the entire cast on the smallish stage of the Ted Shawn theatre ended the evening with a bigger bang than Thursday evening, and I thought for a moment the enthusiastic audience would get the curtains open for more well-deserved bows, but it looked like that venerable rule of show-business, "leave 'em wanting more," was the rule here.

There were some cameras in the theatre tonight, including one at the left front corner of the seats, a useless spot, I think; from one of the people involved I learned that Jacob's Pillow had in mind some publicity, including something to show potential corporate donors, and although nothing is certain at this point, a program on the institution on PBS wasn't impossible, so those who weren't there might someday get some glimpses of these superb performances.

Jacob's Pillow is a pleasant place day or night, I'm finding, but when you've had such a high evening, you especially don't want to go home.

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Thanks, Jack, for sharing your high after a wonderful performance. As usual, the Farrell Ballet seems to improve on the second night. Interesting about Mladenov's and Magnicaballi's smoldering glances and his air of disdain. Back in the day of Farrell's icy smoldering at Peter Martins, the disdain was all the ballerina's. She must have given Momchil a few pointers.

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That's interesting, Juliet; I felt Friday's was the best overall, although there wasn't a huge difference. One thing, though, it seemed to me that Parsley outdid herself Saturday evening. Would you like to tell us what you saw? I remember re-reading with pleasure and profit your long post in another thread about this company, and I'd like to read more like that.

Farrell Fan, that remark about giving Momchil a few pointers reminded me of Ms. Farrell's reply to a question about whether there's only one way to dance Balanchine, at her post-performance talk Thursday: She said, Balanchine gave me freedom, and I give my dancers freedom... I'm comfortable with adaptation; he would expect that of me... I want a ballet to be memorable and not a memory. You only have one now.

Of course, this speaks to broader issues than the one you have in mind, but I think it says something about her general approach and how specifically she intructs her dancers, or does not instruct them. At other times, she's said she doesn't want them watching videos and imitating. For her, dance is now. That's part of her public "secret," I think, of how her company dances with such brio, to use Juliet's excellent word from that other thread. On the other hand, I wasn't at the rehearsals.

In this connection, it seemed to me that Tzigane was not so incendiary in tone Saturday evening, even though Magnicaballi danced with Mladenov again; and in the matinees, her partner was Du, more danseur noble than Mladenov, a professional critic sitting with me Saturday evening said, and although some near-violent movements were if anything more clearly rendered by him - turning her by his arm over her, ending in her back bend, whipping her around some, or, later, nearer the end, throwing her hands away from him - they did not take this material so strongly to the next level.

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My note-taking isn't what it was when I was in school, and it's been so long since I took these I had a hard time filling them in when I ran across them recently, but here's a little more of what Farrell said last summer:

Suzanne Farrell speaking at Jacob's Pillow, 2006

post-performance talk in the Ted Shawn Theatre, 6th July

If I could have danced forever, I would have.

Staging all over the world, I couldn't take the performance to another level, it was too short a time. I wanted to continue with my own dancers, to give them the environment I had.

Shannon Parsley: After dancing with other companies, coming back to Suzanne Farrell puts it all together, I get the whole picture.

[Runqiao Du spoke too, but I didn't get his remarks into my notes. Sorry.]

SF: We're small, we know each other, everyone dances who wants to. What you learn in the morning may not be what you dance in the evening: Learn everything... Spontaneity.


Q: Is there only one way to dance Balanchine? SF: Balanchine gave me freedom. I give my dancers freedom... I'm comfortable with adaptation, he would expect that of me. I want a ballet to be memorable and not a memory. You only have one now.

PillowTalk in Sommerspace, 4:00 pm on 8th July. "Suzanne Farrell's Balanchine Lineage"

[sommerspace is a large balcony on the north side of Blake's Barn, the museum and archive building; it overlooks a frog pond. Farrell was (very briefly) introduced and then questioned by Maura Keefe, who also gave excellent, concentrated 15-minute pre-show "briefings."]

Nothing prepares you to be an ex-ballerina... There's a need for structure, but I waited to see what would fulfill a plan. I enjoy staging Balanchine's ballets. ... The body doesn't lie. You can say something and mean something else...

I'd be remiss as a teacher if I didn't give them everything, even if they can't implement it all at once... Don't perform an opinion, perform options. Q: These dancers can experiment? SF: The steps are in their body, they can think about covering space, the eyes...

Balanchine started me teaching before I was finished dancing. I love teaching. He said, "Some of you are going to have companies."

Q: Talk about technique vs. nuance. SF: From the legs on down, brilliance, jump. From the waist up comes later. But you don't just send your legs out onstage. Balanchine divided us into left and right... Your body is an instrument. Don't rehearse unnecessarily, using up your body. Extremes of speed open up the range of music, you can do more with less. You must be fascinating when you enter.

Q: Talk about perpetuating Balanchine. SF: I wish you could all take a Balanchine class. It's wonderful... It's scary. Some dancers weren't even born when I retired, but they can live Balanchine by dancing him.

Q: How would you compare Balanchine with Bejart and Robbins? SF: They're somewhat theatrical. The dancers will enjoy Bejart's Rite of Spring at the Kennedy Center. It's not an unconquerable reach.

Q: What's it like to pass on Tzigane? SF: The farther I get from my career, the more I wonder, Who is that? I like Natalia Magnicaballi better than me. I want to know my dancers but not to control them... The way he put the steps together is the story.

Q: Why stage Don Quixote now? SF: Because it's personal and close. It's one he gave to me. There aren't that many balletic archeological digs. It's part of my Balanchine rescue program. Now everything is videotaped. ...

Watching him work showed me how to work. ...

I don't remember performing here, I remember the beautiful natural setting. My dancers are happy here. The stage feels good.

Q: Would you tour Don Quixote in the USA? SF: Yes. Maybe Texas, Mexico, California. Los Angeles? Are you offering? I'd love to. ... Touring is one of our missions. Don Quixote requires 52, including local children and extras. Our repertory includes 32 ballets.

Q: I saw Mozartiana in New York. There's a sense of prayer, in the midst of children. SF: The movement with the children is a church motet, I sang it in Catholic church, and I'm happy it re-entered my life. In Meditation, with Jacques, we felt it was heavenly.

Q: Talk about the paradox of "discovering yourself" versus teaching it the way Balanchine wanted it. SF: I have to give them something, and I give them a lot of lattitude, but I have to see if it is appropriate... If they don't look good, he doesn't look good. The world of the ballet must remain intact.

SF: I never expected to come back to NYCB; [after I left] I practiced a Balanchine barre. I always believed in him.

SF: I've choreographed. I'm looking forward to having time. This program was prepared in a week.

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The questioner for most of it was Maura Keefe, on the staff at Jacob's Pillow, although I think the last couple of responses may have been to members of the audience. I'm sorry so much time has elapsed to compromise my memory, but on the other hand I recall someone official-looking there with a video camera on a tripod etc., so the whole thing was likely archived, and since Jacob's Pillow and the Dance Collection exchange some material, the video may surface there in New York.

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