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Kennedy Center Season, October 8-12, 2008

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October 8, 9, and 11 evenings, October 12 matinee.

Liebeslieder Walzer; Ragtime; Episodes (with Ballet Austin)


October 10 and 11 matinee, October 12 evening.

"The Balanchine Couple" featuring narration by Suzanne and excerpts from:

Apollo, La Sonnambula "The Unanswered Question" from Ivesiana, La Valse,

Agon, Meditation, Pas de Mauresque from Don Quixote, Diamonds, Stars and


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(from Washington, DC) The hour is late and I don't know how long this terminal will let me use it, but I've just returned to my hotel from the opening night, and Liebeslieder was amazing. I've looked at Farrell's dancers quite a lot over recent years. Let me say that I recognise dancers and even friends in the next block by distinctive qualities of their movement, and having read the cast list in the program and even seeing a familiar face, profile, or physique on stage, as the minutes went by I felt I didn't know this company. They've never done Liebeslieder before, of course, and their realization of it is so deep and thorough that the movement quality of all eight dancers was unlike anything I've seen from any of them before. And the piano playing was consistently enlivened and aware, too. And the singers were fine. I'll save my quibbles about the set and lighting for later. The hour didn't exactly seem like half an hour, I really had no sense of time anymore with it. Farrell speaks of Balanchine's ballets as "worlds" and that couldn't be more apt: This world has its own time-flow. When this was first announced the pessimist in me wondered if they could pull it off. Did she have the dancers? She has a "new" set of dancers, which they all made (out of themselves) for the purpose. Miraculous!

After intermission we had more familiar dancers, strangely enough, considering a number of them were from Ballet Austin. Farrell is a kind of sorceress, a mistress of white magic:

I've heard Stravinsky's Ragtime in one or another performance with his participation, and here the musical performance, by a small on-stage band, lacked some punch by comparison with those, but the dance (Elisabeth Holowchuk and Michael Cook, of TSFB) seemed another different time-flow experience. It runs 4-1/2 minutes still, yet there's an impossible amount of fun in this without cramming, rushing, or dragging -- here's another "world", a smaller one, but where time goes very differently from what we're used to.

Episodes, by contrast, seemed a more familiar planet, to me, if not to the attentive audience, which filled the main floor and was audibly with everything all evening if unsure when to applaud in Episodes.

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Thanks for your review, Jack. Now I am _really_ excited for both Sunday performances and am trying to prepare by watching Liebeslieder (I've never seen it all the way through, nor Episodes. Blasted German films). May I ask - how were the sightlines in the renovated theater? Think you will go again? :)


.... Farrell is a kind of sorceress, a mistress of white magic....
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(from Washington, DC) I envy you your preparation, emilienne. That's a very good idea. Even just hearing the music through a few times. (You know Balanchine's statement that the words don't matter, right? Except for the last waltz, which is not danced, either.)

I agree, RM Productions, I think they were, zoomed in and zoomed out to the waltz rhythm. What were they thinking? Interpretation, that's what! Reminds me of Stravinsky's remark about "interpretation" in musical performance: "What most people call interpretation I call bad manners," or somthing like that. Okay, I'm a frustrated television director -- for ballet -- and that's another topic, but your remark struck a nerve. It's best when they just show, and don't interpret. Still, it's good to "warm up". My off-air tape is packed away until I can be sure I have a vcr that won't damage it playing it...

I sat in the center of the orchestra, in row S, and found it only a little distant, and though the main floor is not as strongly raked as some theatres, I was not blocked.

Go again? You don't know me! I'm in for the run, I want to memorize these ballets, especially a performance of such quality; that's one way to deal with the video situation: memory. I'll be there for every performance.

And then there's the subtle or not so subtle differences from one performance to the next. (And hopefully, not so subtle: I hope the chandelier flies out of sight for the second section; the stars do come out. When the girls are on pointe, it's more aerial, "big"in the sense of infinity.)

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Is there a commercially available video or DVD of Leibeslieder? If so, please direct me to it!

Jack, thank you so much for your wonderfully evocative comments about opening night. I'll be there for both performances on Saturday and I can't wait.

While I'm at it – this seems as appropriate a place as any to direct a big thank you to the gentleman with whom I stood on line for 4 hours at City Center last month waiting to buy Fall for Dance tickets. The hours flew by as we exchanged our views on the current NY dance scene and when I told him that there was going to be so much ballet at CC in October that I wasn't planning to make my usual pilgrimage to see the Kirov/Mariinsky or head down to DC to catch the Farrell Ballet performances he looked at me like I had two heads and said something to the effect of "What are you crazy? How many more opportunities do you think you'll have to see Suzanne Farrell stage her favorite Balanchine pas de deux and give her thoughts on the Balanchine couple?" His words hit me like a thunderbolt and I bought tickets the next day. What was I thinking?

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There is no commercial release for Liebeslieder, unfortunately. The Balanchine documentary had a clip of Jillana from the L'heure du concert video (which was static) and there's also Verdy/McBride/(mumble)/(other mumble) from the 73 RM film that makes me airsick. What did Mr Astaire once say? "Either the camera will dance, or I will." I don't know whether the camera movements counted as 'dancing', does intent count?

The RM productions are *occasionally* shown on German television (ZDF Theater). They showed La Valse/Valse Fantasie/Concerto Barocco back in March and April, but since then I don't think anything else has been scheduled.

Jack - have you been up to the balcony? I was feeling stingy (ah school payments) and bought a side balcony seat, but now I am strongly considering giving that up for an orchestra seat. I foolishly gave up a row N dead center orchestra for it. Sorry Ms Farrell.

I am going to both performances Sunday and would love to meet up with people before or after either performance. :) It will be exciting and perhaps highly uncomfortable, my favorite combination.

(Will be very *very* glad to see liebeslieder from a stationary perspective.)


(edited to include the correct quote from Mr Astaire. I can't remember exact words to save my life)

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:) but important. :wink:

What did Mr Astaire once say? Either the camera dances, or I do [sic sic sic].
Words for every dance cinematographer to live -- and die -- by. Thanks for that, emilienne.

I once took some dance classes from Fred Kelly, Gene's brother, who noted that Fred Astaire invented a lens that allowed the camera to take long takes of the dancing catching the dancer's full figures, from head to toe. Hard to believe that before then, they weren't able to photograph so well. But dance lovers owe a great debt to Astaire not only for his supreme artistry but for his technological contribution.

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(from Washington, DC) I think I've seen a picture or two of it, a three-wheeled affair, so it did have some agility. Maybe it was in Arlene Croce's "The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book".

Anyway, as I'm getting my feet back on the ground, I realized that although I've praised the Liebeslieder dancers, I've been remiss not to tell everybody who they are:

Natalia Magnicaballi Matthew Prescott

Bonnie Pickard Michael Cook

Erin Mahoney-Du Momchil Mladenov

Ashley Hubbard Runqiao Du

Actually, I typed that up earlier today but was unable to post. Since then, I've seen their second (Friday) performance, and from two rows closer. What a difference!

(I've not been in the balcony for some time, emilienne, and not having my notes about seats with me I can only recall that the first few rows of the balcony were better than the back of the orchestra. Certainly height usually helps at the same distance in any theatre, but row S, for example, is forward of the balcony. On the other hand, row N is closer than necessary for me and, at least in the previous version of the theatre, a bit low, so that I could be partly blocked sometimes. So giving up N might not have been some seriously to regret.)

So I'm airborne in spirit again! What a company! And so good to see Magnicaballi come back to herself, among so many pleasures of the evening: In Chicago, they were on the ground for maybe 48 hours, and she was atypically inexpressive; in the concluding Ricercata of Episodes which I have just come back from, and which is of course Bach arranged by Webern, she was just expressive enough, as each measure of the music tells her to be. She and Matthew Prescott and the superb corps made this the just-right conclusion of the evening -- recollecting the "German school" of composers of which it mostly consists, the hour of Brahms -- but in a modernist crystalline distillation. Farrell does so much right, and laying out a program is not the least of them.

In Ragtime, I realized this evening it's not only my familiarity with the composer's performances that make the music here sound like it lacks a little -- just a little! -- punch, it's also that the dancing, typical of this troupe, has plentyof punch. (No, they don't punch up Liebeslieder, but they do do it large and full.) And I've come to think less of the singers, but just as much of the pianists, Ron Mattson, Farrell's music director and conductor, and Glenn Sales, whose playing with TSFB I have enjoyed before.

I'd be glad to meet some BTer's on Sunday or whenever: I always stretch my legs just inside the ticket-taker's stations, usually not going down the steps into the main foyer. My hair's been white since I was 20 (Irish are like that) and I usually carry a portfolio. I've never worn a carnation in my life!

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I went last night to the Liebeslieder/Ragtime/Episodes program. It was an evening of mixed blessings, although I felt that things improved as the night went on.

I was somewhat disappointed with Liebeslieder, which can be such an exquisite experience if performed in languid style, rather than the choppy pacing delivered here...making the four couples appear to be peasants playing dress-up with their masters' clothing, particularly in the first half. Where are the aristocratic-seeming Kyra Nicholses, Jenifer Ringers and Maria Calegaris when we need them? Last night, the way that one of the ladies sat down on a chair after a dance -- plopping herself down and widening her skirt in a brusque (not soft and discreet) manner ruined the magic for me early-on. Other ladies would mug and over-emote as they sat and watched whoever was dancing at the moment. It's incredible that so much effort went into coaching the steps but not the perfume of the work!

Ragtime (II) is a delightful little bon-bon with charleston-esque hints, toe taps, circular hand movements and even a kissy-kissy moment at the end. I very much enjoyed the on-stage jazz orchestra. Audience seemed to love this ballet the most -- short and sweet....in contrast to not-so-happy rumblings on Liebeslieder. I actually overheard one gal whisper to her neighbor, "At least they danced ballet in the second half."

For me, the evening was all worth it due to an exceptionally beautiful performance of Episodes to four different Anton Webern pieces of music, with the final "Riccercata" section for a full ensemble and leading couple displaying a work that is every bit as masterful as the choreographer's earlier Concerto Barocco. A major reason for Episodes winning the top prize of the night was the participation of the corps de ballet from Ballet Austin in Texas. Kudos to them and to the valiant soloists from the home troupe.

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(from Washington, DC) I think Natalia's points are well-taken. So why? I gather the company's budget has swollen.* From offering 11-week contracts, they're up to 13. (I understand Carolina Ballet -- to take just one well-known, widely seen and respected company, right? --offers 38 weeks, for comparison.) Other details even less postable attest to some scrambling to get this program on at all. Yup, we need those three, and Ringer, who's the one still dancing, I think, needs this. I stand by my original astonished comparison, without essentially disagreeing with Natalia.

Among the things Farrell has done well (besides getting the dancing up this level at least) is to go back to something like the original set for Liebeslieder, as she says in her Notes from the Ballet about this program. For a revival or something, Lincoln Kirstein had a photographically-detailed set built, based on some historically-significant interior, but this ballet is not about that kind of thing. (It's hard to imagine a good one that would be.) I never liked that set. It seemed an upstaging distraction.

Maybe Kirstein was trying to deal with the non-hit-ness of Liebeslieder in New York, which Arlene Croce remarks on, in contrast to Vienna Waltzes, which she says was a hit. Thursday night it was seen here by another crowd that got it, was with it pretty well (although they still had some problems with where to applaud Episodes; still, they wanted to applaud Episodes). Maybe Liebeslieder has found its time and place. It's to Farrell's credit that she mounts a potentially demanding program. I don't know quite how big it is, but she seems to have an audience for it, too. All for the best.

Today's (Friday's) "Washington Post" has a good review by Sarah Kaufman. Usually "a good review" means a positive one, but I mean that it positively, actually helps the reader to comprehend and enjoy what they may see, and Kaufman gives us some of that.

I have more quibbles about the pictures and their captions: The one on the front page of the section turns out to show, not TSFB dancers, but, ironically, Ballet Austin's dancers, of whom there are a dozen in Episodes. And under the second picture it would have been better style to have used the full title of the ballet shown, "Liebeslieder Walzer" instead of just the first word. To identify the eight dancers there might have made the caption too long, or maybe not, because Kaufman speaks of them just below on the newspaper page. Anyway it's more a matter for those with a deeper interest in the subject. People like us? From left to right, they are Ashley Hubbard with Runqiao Du (back of his head to us), Natalia Magnicaballi with Matthew Prescott, Erin Mahoney-Du with Momchil Mladenov, and (mostly hidden) Bonnie Pickard with Michael Cook.

Notice in this picture not only the girls' gowns but their character shoes, and the chairs at the back, details which identify it as of part one, to the Opus 52 music.

Balanchine says, in Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, that he didn't put the words of the love-songs in the program because that "would suggest that the dances were illustrations and I never had that in mind." Instad of the words, I listen to the melodies and watch how these melodies are danced, their emotional tone, their rhythm, their outline, even: If the melody goes higher, chances are one of the women will, too.

But of the last song, Balanchine says, "The words ought to be listened to in silence", and prints them in his book. Because they're not in the program, and the Complete Stories are not widely available, I put them here: Now, Muses, enough! You try in vain to portray how misery and happiness alternate in a loving heart.

("Listened to in silence"? In silence, there's nothing to hear, right? Whether Mr. B, always the teacher, hands us this little paradox as an intentional challenge or whether it's a "slip", something from deeper within him, I think here again there's the idea of "See the music, hear the dance." As the dancers come back on stage, they don't dance. They're "silent".)

Kaufman speaks of Episodes as "a ballet of little sound and few steps. Webern's jagged music is reduced in spots to elemental notes, while the dancing is similarly spare." Leaving aside the filling-in in the very last piece, the Bach orchestration, that's a fair account, although, again, Balanchine's description seems to me more evocative: "Webern's music fills the air like molecules." Molecules. Remember that chemistry course, where molecules were represented as... little spheres... or... clumps of little spheres... with... ... ... in between.

*I thought I was choosing this word as though speaking tongue-in-cheek. I've since gathered that the budget is the same as before; they've just found ways to get more out of it. *sigh*

Edited by Jack Reed
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:wink: Thank you once again Jack for bring Ms. Farrell's company to those who are unable to see it in person!

Thank you for also identifying the dancers in the photo. Mr. Prescott was easily identified by his glorious curls, but I had a hard time with the others. :)

Would you be so kind as to describe the costuming detail, and also who gets credit for their construction?

I don't mean to be beging for details, but I do love all the details!

If not too much trouble, were any of the regular corps members there? Reed? Kurt? Ian? etc.?

Thank you soooo much for your incite, opinions and observations...keep them coming!

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(from Washington, DC) You're welcome, TutuMaker. I have to disappoint you a little about answering your request. All the program said was "Costumes made possible through agreements with San Francisco Ballet and National Ballet of Canada."

Now I have to reveal that I'm one of those guys who knows about six names for colors, but I'll try to remember to solicit others' descriptive details Sunday. Too bad the New York Times review has no pictures (online, anyway). For the Opus 62 part, the girls have gauzy long skirts I thought might do for La Valse, but actualy the colors are much too pale for that one; still, there's a little of that layered-color effect, if you know those. (Why would someone with a screen name like TutuMaker want costume details? Hmm...)

As to corps members, the ones actually onstage rather than just in the company list, have been Violeta Angelova, Amy Brandt, Jordyn Richter, Andrew Kaminski, Laurie Lou Garside, and Sara Ivan. There are a couple more cast in "The Unanswered Question", James Reed Hague and Danny Scott, but these perfomances have not gone yet.

Meanwhile I recommend Macaulay's review. He, like Natalia, felt something missing, although I can't tell if it's the same thing; but what we get is, we feel -- he and I, not that I see anything like so keenly as he -- quite a lot. The dramatic weight may come; I indicated, to explain, not to excuse, for this company needs no excuses in my view, only better circumstances, the circumstances they're in in the meantime.

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Jack, I have a real problem with the artistry and 'soul' of the Farrell dancers, in general. Quite simply, they are not at the expected level for a company to dance as intricate and 'deep' a ballet as is Liebeslieder. It's not enough to Do The Steps. I also found the over-brisk tempo of the music distracting. I have sung the alto soloist in Liebeslieder, professionally, and know this music intimately. The music must ooze and be milked by both vocalists and dancers. What is saw & heard last night was a good ol' college try, sorry.

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(from Washington, DC) I have this odd sense that I agree with Natalia much more than she agrees with me about Liebeslieder. Certainly I was aware of a lot of room for further improvement. Sometimes for me this took the form of "seeing ghosts": Things like Oh, how that would look on Verdy came to mind more than once. Essentials of what I'm seeing have to approach what I saw years ago for this unconscious suggestion process to happen, I think.

And I felt that the "Ricercata" conclusion to Episodes was most fully achieved and so, most satisfying. A strong ending for the evening.

But what many of us "old audience" are enjoying here, I think, was well put by Alastair Macaulay in yesterday's New York Times where he said of these ballets,

They are danced with a mixture of keen understanding and spontaneous freedom seldom found in any choreographer's repertory long after his death.
(There's a photo in the paper version of his review; the Times's caption identifies the dancers, too.)

I'd add that it's not necessary even to wait until the choreographer's death to see the life go out of his (or her) dances, just watch an unsupervised performance or two. And I hope I can add that there were probably some in the audience who never saw these dances before and who enjoy these performances for such virtues as they have.

Costume note: I'n not very original sometimes, if ever, but when I heard someone's color names for the girls' Liebeslieder costumes, I thought they fit well. The first part is in creamy beige satin and the second has gray over lilac. (This is pretty accurate historically, isn't it?) But we'll see what Juliet has on this, and anything else that comes to her mind.

I saw the first performance of the "Couples" program last night, and among the high points were the Apollo pas de deux with Sara Ivan and Du and, even better, the Agon one with Indre Vengris Rockefeller and Mladenov. Both girls are listed as corps members. Low point: No ensemble or rising stripes after the Stars and Stripes pas de deux.

Theatre seating note: I think row S in the Orchestra is under the first row of seats in the Box level just above; for my eyes, that's a tad far, although height seems to help even when there's not a crowd of performers on stage.

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Jack, we totally agree on the highlights in last night's The Balanchine Couple opener! :thumbsup: Vengris-Rockefeller's Agon pdd, in particular, introduces a real gem of a tall Balanchinesque artist! I was also very taken by the tender, musical performance of Natalia Magnicaballi in Meditation. Alas, she was unable to repeat that level of performance in the Diamonds pdd, where her petite limbs could not do justice to the iconic images that we all know and love (think the developes of Farrell or Lopatkina)....but -- ha! -- Magnicaballi beat them all with the sheer brilliance of her sparkle-packed tutu, which had me reaching for my sunglasses!

It's a shame that the many 'highs' of the program were eclipsed by the final two pdd's on view, one of which featured a ballerina whose moves reminded me of the TV commercial of the granny who tries to be a high-school cheerleader, barely getting her 'split jumps' off the ground. Sorry to be so critical but it's a bit jarring to see such a feeble performance on the stage, particularly when 80% of what preceded it was magnificent.

p.s. - It was a treat seeing and hearing Suzanne Farrell introducing the ballets. For our fashionistas: she wore a lovely, cocktail-length, salmon-colored chiffon dress with ruffly skirt. Wouldn't this program make a great PBS special telecast? (hint - hint)

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Saturday afternoon ("The Balanchine Couple" again) I noticed the heightening effect of bringing out all three pairs of dancers at the end of each set of pas de deux: We're reminded of how varied the Balanchine "worlds" we just visited were by seeing them next to each other, and the effect is, well, doubled at the end of the last set by bringing out six pairs. (We've seen nine pas de deux, of course, but there have been costume and changes and cast rotations.) I don't know if Farrell anticipated this effect or not, but it shows again how good her instincts are.

Saturday evening as I was watching Liebeslieder I thought again this is beautifully achieved and maybe the best thing they've done, a real step up from even the fine performances of the past. Afterward I caught up with a couple of New York friends from the old days of Balanchine's company. One, an "everynighter" then, or almost, said, "It's so nice to see Liebeslieder again. It's not what it was when Suzanne and Violette and the others were in it, but it's Liebeslieder." Mahoney-Du and Mladenov were especially fine.

Young-audience note: The woman on my right, with girls ages 4 and 6, liked Mahoney-Du and Mladenov especially, too; the little ones got a little squirmy near the end of the second part of Liebeslieder, but another 6-year old on my left remained attentively erect except during the pause. After hearing my quick gloss on the repertory to come after intermission, the group on my right elected to stay (the one to the left stayed without consulting me). I learned, however, these children were not in your representative sample of the general tot population; one was involved in dance and gymnastics, and all had previous experience watching theatrical dance. (I didn't pick up any sign that their moms urged any of this on them, which is anathema with me.)

Further costume note: In the last waltz of part one, as the four girls turned, spreading their gowns, I noticed that two of them match my friend's description and two are white with four broad pale yellow stripes running down from the waist. Tutumaker, can you enlarge the second picture in the Washington Post's on line review of the Liebeslieder program? It shows the gowns worn in part one, but at the moment, on a shared computer, I can't enlarge it well enough to see the stripes.

Ragtime looks a little thin if you look hard, but there's so much fun coming so fast you don't. The "Ricercata" of Episodes was led Saturday evening by Mahoney-Du and Mladenov, and it was even more effective than with Magnicaballi and Prescott. Their only one, though, according to the printed program.

The "Ricercata" this time was led even more effectively by Mahoney-Du and Mladenov. Alas it's their only one. The rest of this number is mainly Ballet Austin, which seems just a little less sharp and crisp than TSFB. Clean and clear, though, as Episodes requires.

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A quick note after a full day of ballet - more description &tc will doubtlessly come tomorrow once my brain resets.

It was a pleasure to meet Jack and kfw from BT. The only thing I can add at this hour is that the renovated Eisenhower Theater has great sight lines at the balcony level (not the boxes). I was four seats in from the end in row C and very little of my view was obstructed. The obstruction became a little worse from the top corner of the balcony (10% to about 20% at most - one set of doors to Liebeslieder and the tenor was obscured) but it didn't affect my view of the main group.

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The "Ricercata" this time was led even more effectively by Mahoney-Du and Mladenov. Alas it's their only one. The rest of this number is mainly Ballet Austin, which seems just a little less sharp and crisp than TSFB. Clean and clear, though, as Episodes requires.

Could you elaborate on this for me? I'm trying to understand how something is less "sharp and crisp" but still "clean and clear" in this context. Or maybe I'm not reading it properly.



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[Could you elaborate on this for me? I'm trying to understand how something is less "sharp and crisp" but still "clean and clear" in this context. Or maybe I'm not reading it properly.



I'm with you, Pointe1432! As far as I'm concerned, the best ballet on view during the recent Farrell season at the KennCen *was* Episodes, by a mile, and a great reason for this was Ballet Austin. 'Nuf said.

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