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Suzanne Farrell Ballet - Washington DC 11/21/07

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I really enjoyed tonight's performance. There seemed to be a smoothness of legato, and a security of presentation, that I haven't always seen from this company in the past. Bonnie Pickard gave the audience a lot of eye contact in Bugaku, and a fascinating characterization. She seemed to be triangulating between winsomeness, determination, and anxiety - lots going on there. I also found Anthony Krutzkamp's enjoyment in Chaconne to be quite contagious. He's a very likeable dancer.

Seeing Bugaku again reminded me how long ago (1963) Balanchine was doing the yoga-martial arts choreography that is so familiar today. Does anybody remember what were the antecedents of that, or who did it first?


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(from Washington, DC) I echo Farrell Fan, Mike, but maybe some one will come in who can answer your question. As I'm having some technical problems, some of my comments may be out of sync with the discussion here; I'm writing at one place and time and posting elsewhere, later, and to explain further, I'm sorry, but as we are all different and will therefore disagree sometimes, I responded differently to Anthony Krutzkamp's performance, as you will see if you feel like reading through everything that's come to me about what I saw the first two evenings, although, as you will see, I think you got the better casts overall, and I'm glad you enjoyed your visit:

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's Fall season got underway Tuesday night (the 20th) in front of a pretty good crowd in the Kennedy Center Opera House; I could see that the main floor had some empty patches toward the rear corners but that people were sitting in the side front corners of the Box Tier, and Wednesday's (the 21st) crowd was good, too, when from the orchestra seats I could see some people in the First Tier. On the other hand, there was a 2-for-1 ad for some performances in the Washington Post.

The first all-Balanchine program ("Program A") opened with as beautiful a performance as we might expect from this troupe, although as the ballet was Bugaku maybe "beautiful" is just slightly off the bull's-eye. Natalia Magnicaballi was the bride, in casting against type; I remember with relish her heated rendition of Tzigane at Jacob's Pillow (with Momchil Mladenov, more passionately "awake" than Peter Martins is in the video) and her agitated Dulcinea in Balanchine's Don Quixote. Here she has to work "modest" into her performance, and if she didn't look as accomplished in that, nor did she look so eye-poppingly boneless as Kent did orginally (who could?), it was a vital performance otherwise (as we expect!), and I look forward to seeing her second performance on Saturday evening, not only to see further development of it, but also for what it already is.

That said, Wednesday evening brought Bonnie Pickard and Jared Redick into the leads, and I wonder whether I can say that Pickard got the "modest", delicate, and vulnerable bit better without implying Magnicaballi was crudely bold or forceful or otherwise ill-suited to the role, or something, because she wasn't.

Magnicaballi's partner was Michael Cook, new to the company, all she needed evidently (as we expect) and clearly classical and evincing some of the role's dignity on his own, and able to avoid getting caught up in the trains in the second part as well, but without the frightening power of Edward Villella in the original cast. Well, we don't expect that, either, but nevertheless, I felt more power from Redick in the role. Karinska's wonderfully imagined costumes, the girls' based on lotus blossoms, were borrowed from San Francisco Ballet, and a slightly simplified version of the original set was used.

The "Pas Classique Espagnol" from Balanchine's Don Quixote followed intermission, in new more-or-less "Spanish" costumes by Holly Hines: More in the case of the principals, less in the case of the corps, to my mind. Somewhat simplified, they looked economical but effective. Anyway, the choreography is what does it. At one point in the open rehearsal, one of the three girls did a movement quite effectively, but Farrell called out, "huge!" and on the next couple of counts the girl grew another couple of inches and put them all into what she did, without any appearance of strain or effort. Emphatic and light at the same time; that's the general tone I saw here.

The principals on Tuesday were Ashley Hubbard and Momchil Mladenov; their pas de deux is more reflective of the whole ballet, as critic George Jackson pointed out in his simultaneous commentary at the open rehearsal, than the rest of the Pas, and indeed, we sometimes hear the three-note up-and-down figure, dah-DEE-dah, which often accompanies the Don's progress in the whole ballet, "a serious work about human ideals" (Jackson), underlying the music in this section. Near the end of her variation, Ashley's fall, "like felled timber", as Sarah Kaufman put it (at too great length) in Thursday's Washington Post, while certainly a large movement, fortunately had no large lingering consequnces.

"Originally more character, now as somewhat reconstructed by Suzanne Farrell, more classique", Jackson said. "...There are balances but they are moving balances. [balanchine] hated the dead spots in some techniques... Ashley Hubbard shows the angularity some see in the space around her when she dances." (I rarely read or hear anyone else's ideas about what some dancers seem to do to their space!) This was the first public orchestral performance of this part of the score since the '70's, incidentally.

On Wednesday the principals were Magnicaballi and Matthew Prescott, and I thought this part of the program, like Bugaku, also had the stronger cast the second night: Hubbard was remarkable, with that special effect Jackson noticed, but Magnicaballi infused the part with a kind of steadily luminous and warm classic purity that made it all the more effective, and Prescott was effective as a partner and on his own.

The "television version" of Chaconne closed the program; this version omits a pas de trois* for a girl and two boys in the second part (with the mixed ensemble) and a bit of music early on, where there is a sequence of clouds and titles in the video, and we even got a nice projection of white cotton-like clouds on the blue backdrop for the first part, changing to radiating pink streamers, like dawn (or Northern Lights?) for the later part. (Actually, I didn't notice the musical cut on Wednesday.) The cast is augmented by eight to ten dancers (depending on performance) from the Cincinnati Ballet.

In her brief "Notes from the Ballet" on the Kennedy Center web site, Farrell says Chaconne has nothing to do with the Orpheus story, and as this is certainly not a story ballet, that's the thing to say in brief remarks, but I'd offer that there may be some intimation of that ancient myth in the dance's first half-minute: The two principals slowly enter an empty stage with downcast gaze; there's something tragic here. In the center, they don't meet or even look at each other, as we ballet-watchers might expect them to, but take paths turning away from each other, to stand disconsolately back-to-back, each with a lowered shoulder; and now we know something of what the tragedy is.

For me, Chaconne is all the more effective for moving from this shaded opening moment into the radiance of the remainder; and the famous flute melody we hear at first seems to me to be both wistful or something, and heavenly, arching spaciously overhead. Or maybe I'm wrong. No matter, there are different ways to see Balanchine.

With Bonnie Pickard and Runqiao Du on Tuesday I thought the evening ended more strongly than on Wednesday with Kristi Capps and Anthony Krutzkamp of the Cincinnati Ballet. Certainly Capps was plenty lively enough, and she may well have felt, as she appeared to, that she had triumphed in it, but while her partner seemed to be everything she needed, I think his role could have used more supple, molded movement. Sometimes they were young people happy to be dancing together. In Balanchine's timeless ballets, the dancers are more like gods: Pickard never lacked for vitality, keeping subtly rippling detail within continuous flow of shape, and Du suggested a series of classic statues without ever hinting at the weight or rigidity of stone; none of those dead spots Balanchine hated.

Kaufman doesn't mention the musical rendition, but it was excellent throughout both evenings -- as we expect from Ron Matson and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra: Especially in Chaconne, firmly shaped phrases and clear textures, and generally "zippy" tempos (some very easy tempos in Chaconne in the rehearsal were evidently just for rehearsal).

And I have only one quibble about the uncomplicated lighting, which steadily gave us a good view of the program, arguably excepting the very end of the Pas Classique, where the line of a dozen women across the back is thrown into half light and the principals downstage center have their own separate pool of light from overhead. I thought this undercut a little the high energy reached on stage by that point.

*I've since realized this was a very short pas de deux, in which the girl turned in attitude on bent leg on pointe while her partner ran around her in the opposite direction, supporting her by a series of quickly-changed hand clasps.

Edited by Jack Reed
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Ditto here, Jack, and if we had a somewhat different reaction to individual dancers & works, that's just in the nature of our personal responses to this most personal of arts. I am very appreciative of your comments, especially since there are so few of us who post from DC!

Today's (Saturday, 11/24, Program B) matinee was sparsely attended (center orchestra full, side orchestra mostly empty) - but beautifully danced, I thought, and the KC orchestra was at the top of its form, with especial kudos to excellent pianist Glenn Sales and super violinist Oleg Rylatko. Dancers Pickard and Redick repeated their totally wonderful (imho) Bugaku from Wed., and Natalia Magnicaballi + Washington Ballet principal Runqiao Du gave a Ballade pdd to die for. There followed the exquisite and exacting Pithoprakta - especially nostalgic for me, since I studied Xenakis at IU school of music in the 60's. Pickard subbed for Magnicaballi in Meditation (Tchaikovsky) with Momchil Mladenov; I was very grateful to be sitting close to stage right & got the full force of their stunning entrances and combinations on that side. Lastly, the 4th movement of Brahms Piano Quartet orch. Schoenberg, danced by Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott + the whole company in blinding white costumes on a brilliantly lit stage.

Considering the two performances (programs A and B) that I attended, these little gems showcased Balanchine's incredible range as a choreographer, from modernist to romantic. I also think that Farrell's company is dancing better than ever, principals + corps, and has really come together as a company. Initially a teaching company, whose mission was to train dancers in the true Balanchine style and perpetuate his legacy, they are turning into a very excellent performing company as well!


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(from Washington, DC) Friday's program began after a spoken announcement that it was "lovingly dedicated to Maurice Bejart, mentor and friend to Suzanne Farrell"; a picture of Bejart was among the inserts in the program.

Leave it to Mr. B. to know what he could leave out. When your ballerina can waft on stage like a piece of chiffon, you don't need a scarf; and anyway, aren't scarf dances with a scarf a little corny? But that's how Bonnie Pickard wafted on from the right wing at the beginning of Ballade when "Program B" began on Friday evening, the 23rd. I don't remember having seen this ballet, danced to a characteristically flowing, delicate and lovely piece by Gabriel Faure' for piano and orchestra, ever before, and it was the high point of Friday evening for me. Not actually a "lost" ballet, it deserves to be seen more often.

If I describe a couple of details, you may get the tone of the piece: Pickard's excellent light and delicate partner was Runqiao Du; and a particularly nice detail in the choreography came when, on one knee behind Pickard for a moment, Du put his arms in a circle around her knees, lightly hugging them for an instant, and then took them away, while Pickard kept on moving without having acknowledged him. And Balanchine's way of bringing on the corps was also delicate: A girl from both sides at the back, then a couple more from each side, then a couple more from each side farther front, and so on until there were ten. At one point, Pickard does a series of gentle turns on pointe into the wing with one bent arm curved around her but the other raising her hand over her head; a moment later, with Pickard absent, this figure is echoed in the corps. At the end, the stage having cleared of everyone else as the orchestration of the music thins out, Pickard wafts off into the same wing she entered from, all by herself.

Holly Hynes' costumes for this were just right, I thought, Du wearing white with a pale gold jacket, Pickard in champagne and the corps in medium raspberry, with swirling mid-length skirts; Jeff Bruckerhoff's lighting helped make the ballet a delight to see, not distracting from it. Glenn Sales was the superb pianist. On Saturday aftrnoon, the 24th, Natalia Magnicaballi alternated, also with Du, and while the piece was still wonderfully light and flowing, luminous even, with her, she seemed a little less well suited to it this time (her only time, alas).

Ballade followed the first intermission, and was itself followed, after a pause, by Pithoprakta, whose subtitle reads, "Action by Probabilities", which could hardly have been more different from Ballade, showing Balanchine in his Merce Cunningham mode. A rapid knocking sound begins before the curtain has quite gone all the way up, giving me the momentary illusion that the curtain machinery was doing it. We first see the dancers on a dark stage silhouetted against the light from a huge diagram projected as a backdrop. One after another of J. Russell Sandifer's pools of light soon reveals the cast: the principals in white unitards, Elisabeth Holowchuk with a skirt of cloth strips, Matthew Prescott (Friday evening) or Kirk Henning (Saturday afternoon) with a belt of large open squares. Soon spread across the back, the mixed corps, which is hopping around, quickly waving their splayed hands over their heads, is in unisex black shoulderless body stockings held up with crossed straps. More apt designs by Holly Hynes.

I liked all of this, and pretty soon I began to see how the stage action coordinated with the various commotions emanating from the pit: Even in his Merce mode, Balanchine is still Balanchine. And getting some pretty startling things out of his dancers: With the principals downstage left, Holowchuk turned in attitude on pointe with a hand extended for support from Prescott, who circled her in a half crouch, his hand palm up under hers palm down. Okay, so what? We've seen things like that before. The difference here is that their hands remained separated by two or three inches; there was no actual support or any contact that I could see. But around together they went. And this major pas de deux went on through more such surprising developments of familiar-seeming ideas. The piece never lacked interest, or fun. Indeed, Holowchuk was constantly on her feet, while the corps got to sleep or play dead or something across the back a few times, and even her partner reclined. At the end, the corps having expired again, Holowchuk faces us, down on one knee, with her wrists crossed over her head and her fingers fluttering in front of her face. After about nine minutes, the music has similarly died away, and I wondered, now what? Then I noticed the curtain descending.

Program B opens with Bugaku also, and on Friday evening it was led by Magnicaballi and Cook; it must not have hurt that I had moved up to one of the best seats in the house from my previous locations, but both their performances seemed more effective. Still, Saturday afternoon's, with Pickard and Redick again, was yet more effective, with Redick's more fearsome movement and Pickard's fearful response (if you watched for it; she didn't overplay it). Meditation and "Fourth Movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet", as it was called in the program, concluded. (I think this is marked Rondo alla zingarese in the score; would the translation, "Gypsy Rondo," lead people's attention in the right direction, to the fun character and the repeating structure of the piece? I don't know.)

Meditation, danced by Magnicaballi and Du on Friday evening, was strangely less effective than I had thought it might be, considering the feeling Magnicaballi often gives her dancing, and Du was often emotionally rather remote in this. But on Saturday afternoon, this big little ballet was powerfully realized by Pickard and Mladenov; the dancing was large and clear throughout, and so was his emotional transformation from something like melancholy to renewal.

In The Old Days, of course, Suzanne Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise would whip through the end of "Brahms-Schoenberg" with physically dramatic challenges to each other raised to the point of making me think, "Let's not somebody get hurt up there, now!" Friday evening Pickard and Mladenov did this in rather easy tempos, she giving a particularly faceted, burnished and charactiere performance; on Saturday afternoon, Ashley Hubbard essayed noticably livelier tempos with less nuance and shading, less "color", also with Mladenov. Pickard hints just a bit at her "character's" change of attitude toward her partner, Hubbard brings more of the old energy -- they're both valid realizations, if a little tame for those with long memories.

Saturday evening brought Program A around again, and brought me to a still closer seat. I took more to Magnicaballi's way with Bugaku this time -- probably not because of the distance, though. I think she's absorbed it more, so it can come back from within her more; or maybe not. As usual, her dancing had at least a large, simple, unembellished beauty in a slightly creamy way, a less-is-more approach, and what I felt more sure of tonight was a sense of seeing through and beyond what she was doing to a larger, implied world, in contrast to looking more at the more developed, embellished and explicit way Pickard inhabited a nearer world as she danced this role.

Pas Classique Espagnol was repeated with the same cast, and from a closer distance the unfortunate contrast between the well-lit ensembles and the dimly-lit principal numbers seemed greater. The principal dances are the more important; why should they be harder to see? A woman next to me called the costumes in this one "boring", and I don't think they're quite up to the standard Holly Hynes reached in Ballade and Pithoprakta -- or Meditation, for that matter, although these are very similiar to what I have seen years ago on Farrell and d'Amboise, in particular the sport-shirt-and-slacks ensemble on him.

Houses were smaller on Saturday than during the week; and the Friday and Saturday night audiences elected not to applaud at all during the costume-change break in the middle of Bugaku, while the Saturday matinee audience clapped during that break and after the acrobatic pas de deux which immediately follows it.

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Thank you once again Jack. I especially appreciate your beautiful costume descriptions---you've painted a picture I can see in my mind! I am wistfull that I was unable to see these performances.

Thanks also to Mike for your views and descriptions!

I cannot tell you just how much I apprectiate the time you both took to share these performances!


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dirac opened today's Links with Alistair Macaulay's NY Times review of the Farrell Company:


As with his earlier reviews of Miami anad Pacific Northwest, Macaulay is full of praise. Here are just some of the phrases he employs: "courageous," "energy," "sophistication," "youthful glowing," "animated detail," "shape," "flow," "its detail and its spell."

As with the other companies he refers to certain limitations (the Farrelll Company's lack of rehearsal time; the fact that none of the dancers is truly "world class" in terms of technique), but the focus is definitely on recognizing the spell cast by individual dancers, describing his favorite individual bits of choregraphy, and praising the spirit and ambition of the company's choices.

The subtext continues: Balanchine is being given visionary, vital, memorable performances in these three companies directed by his spiritual and artistic children . (eg., :"Energy, scale, detailed nuance, and musical sophistication seldom found elsewhere.") Always hovering on the edge of things is Macaulay's oft-stated conviction that these qualities are not being encouraged consistently in Balanchine's own company.

I've loved reading the posts on these performances on this thread. I wonder if anyone would like to comment on Macaulay's piece -- either in detail (did he describe what you saw?) or as a sweeping endorsement of the company's approach to repertoire.

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I was a little surprised to see that MacCauley didn't mention Pickard and Mladenov's gorgeous "Meditation," but very happy that he wrote at all, and thrilled by all the photographic memory aids. What struck me most strongly in the two performances I saw were the dancing of Pickard and then later especially Magnicaballi and Cook in "Bugaku." Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post had me worried about a "slightly porno take on the classic grand pas de deux" with Magnicaballi an equal player in a "game of conquest," but I didn't see any game or any "go-go"-ing up of the ritual eroticism in Balanchine's steps, which truly would be kitsch with even a hint of camp. Both women gave us movingly vulnerable portraits, with Pickard perhaps more trepidatious and Magnicaballi more overtly afraid and even resentful (it's an arranged marriage, as Jack reminded me), but at the same time brave. I never saw Mitchell or Villella, but to my eyes Cook had the weightiness Balanchine asked for. Both women gave their characters great dignity, which to my mind reflects dignity on the part of the dancers themselves in a role that must take some courage to perform.

I'm anything but an expert, but I thought that the quality of the other performances varied. I'm not one who hated Nabokov's music for "Don Quixote," but the passage for "Pas Classique Espangol" was really, really dull. Hubbard deserved her bouquet for making it worth watching. On the other hand, while Hubbard and Prescott are young and charming, I didn't think either had the technique for the 4th movement of Brahms-Schoenberg. He started audibly huffing early on, and for brief moments they both looked exhausted. But then I was in the sixth row. Much of "Pithoprakta" could be Balanchine's idea of an acid trip, but not the wonderful moments in the pas de deux where the lovers (?) don't quite touch. I'd like to see this again but what are the chances of that? Pickard is lovely in anything, and warm when it's called for, and maybe she isn't Suzanne Farrell or an assoluta even by today's standards, but she predictably triumphed in "Chaconne," which I thought suited her well. And of course Runqiao Du is always a gracious partner. His wife, Erin Mahoney-Du was delightful in "Clarinade" a couple of seasons ago and I hope she's back from maternity leave and back on stage the next time this exciting little company assembles (no pun intended, honest) in D.C..

Jack and Mike, it was great to read your reviews.

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You're welcome, TutuMaker, feedback of any kind helps keep me going here. But speaking of costumes, did you view the "slide show" accompanying Macaulay's review? Four excellent pictures, plus one with some feet cut off, but still very good image quality. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? What did you think?

In general, in answer to bart's question, he saw what I saw, and caught it in fewer words, and I was glad he was there. The world -- our world, anyway -- deserves and needs to know what's going on there. That said, there may be a little more from me when I get the chance...

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Here is a link to the slide show Jack was referring to.

For the most part I was very impressed by not only the quality of the photographs, but also by the composition. It was nice to have these pictorial reminders of dancers I so enjoyed in June. I was again struck by the eye to eye contact that was such a big part of the pieces that were presented in late spring. Ms. Elisabeth Holochuk and Natalia Magnicaballi, it seems from these photos have gazes that are nothing less than fierce!

Costume wise I thought it was quite clever to repeat the look of the skirt of the soloist in "Pithoprakta" in the headpiece. As to the rest of the costumes I loved the simplicity that seems to be the hallmark of this company. The only critisism I could offer would be that the colors in "Fourth Movement of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet ," seem to be very bland.

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