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Suzanne Farrell Ballet, Berkeley, October 24 & 25, 2009

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I'm a bit behind in making a report on Suzanne Farrell Ballet's visit to Berkeley. Two interesting programs, Balanchine pas de deux with narration by SF and a triple bill featuring Agon and Bejart's R&J. The Bejart was the least substantial item on either of the programs. It may have been given in tribute to Cal Performances as Suzanne Farrell danced with Bejart at Zellerbach Hall when she was on the Balanchine banned list. The Agon was excellent! I enjoyed the pdd program thought no one really stood out.

The night before the opening, SB did a talk with the Cal Perfs exec director - who after she had said she didn't watch DVDs of her dancing, twice went out of his way to talk about her working with Peter Martins in Apollo which he watched on dvd! I had the chance to ask her if there were any choreographers she watched and thought promising - parsing through the reply, I learned two things: no, there isn't anyone she would single out and the she doesn't want to choreograph but loves to teach what she has learned.

Houses were about 50% with rush tickets being available.

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Tardy or not, your short post made interesting reading. Thank you!

Who were the cast in Agon, ggobob?

Farrell's dancers have presented Bejart's R & J pas de deux in Washington, DC, too; I'm away from home and so without my books (such as Holding onto the Air), but I think it's close to her for being made on her and Jorge Donne, during her "exile" from NYCB.

IIRC, she's said sometime past she was interested in choreographing, so it may be a live issue -- one that can go either way at different times. There's always the matter of cost (speculating now). It must be more "efficient" use of time just to teach already-completed roles she's learned.

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ggobob, can you tell us more about what The Balanchine Couple presentation was like? This would seem to be a natural for performances in university settings. Was it more like a leacture/demonstration? Or was the focus on extended dance excerpts connected by a brief narration?

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Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to The Balanchine Couple, but did enjoy the Sunday performance. Very impressed with the dancers, although I thought that overall the women looked better than the men.

Really disliked Contrapuntal Blues PDD from Clarinade: pseudo-jazz dancing to pseudo-jazz music and none of it going anywhere; Elisabeth Holowchuk and Ted Seymour did what they could with it.

Agon was a revelation; if ever a ballet called out for repeated viewings, this is it. Natalia Magnicaballi seemed born to dance Balanchine in that astonishing central PDD.

Among the other dancers, Michael Cook stood out from the men for his lightness and ballon; Sara Ivan for her beautiful line and flexible back (I could have sat through the otherwise forgettable Romeo and Juliet just to see her again), and Violeta Angelova for the quick airiness of her dancing in the charming Divertimento 15 (she was the only one whose pointe shoes didn't clunk).

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bart, Farrell has been presenting The Balanchine Couple since 2003, if I'm not mistaken. That's when she first brought it to the Kennedy Center. It included pas de deux from Apollo, La Sonnambula, Ivesiana, La Valse, Agon, Meditation, Don Quixote, Chaconne, and Stars and Stripes. Those performances were reviewed on Ballet Talk here. The program isn't a lecture demonstration, but Farrell introduces each piece speaking from notes.

Here is Clare Croft's danceviewtimes review from 2003.

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Thanks, kfw, for those links. The posts on that thread are really impressive. I urge everyone who may have come to BT after that time -- or missed it for whatever reason -- to read it now. Same with the DanceViewTimes review.

It's also nice to have had Jack Reed there, with his astonishing ability to write down the heart of what a speaker says, and to observe the dancing so closely.

Jack raised an interesting point about how difficult it is to balance the didactic with the experience of dance speaking for itself:

... [A]lthough I had heard an extemporaneous example of how very apt, even brilliant, Farrell could be at finding words about Balanchine as long ago as the early eighties, the worrier in me feared it could be too didactic for an audience which had come to be entertained. But she both complimented the audience's intelligence and amused it, although some people near me did say at the first intermission they'd rather have had that in the program; as though anticipating, Farrell gave one introduction to the following three pas de deux. In lesser hands, it could have been deadly dull, but she's Suzanne Farrell, still taking risks, and making them pay off.

I wish Villella would do something on "Balanchine's Men."

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But Farrell’s Balanchine is quite different than anyone else’s -- a combination of gothic (Paul Parish used this in his review) and introverted and also sweet and somewhat precious. So different from sunny and brilliant Villella’s.

Maybe against Farrell's words, I’d say while the Balanchine pas de deux holds the whole together, it’s not romantic, or only romantic in the 19th century sense, in that it’s most always an essay in loss and the porosity of love.

Anyway it was a thrill to see the Ives piece at Zellerbach, which I had never seen and has so much fascinating development within the walls of such a restrictive premise. The La Valse excerpt was very finely done, but Stars and Stripes was a bit wilted.

La Sonnambula was best of all -- even though the recent performances at NYCB with Nicolai Hubbe seemed to be the ultimate version. Farrell’s was a close up section, and I had never really looked at the part -- and never been so moved -- as when the poet goes over the dreamer with an overhead, reverse examining ring or halo, over the length of her body and in the process collapses behind her. Paul Parish had this nice image of the ballet in his review:

He detects that she knows where he is, puts a foot out in her way, she steps over it, he wraps his arms around her without actually quite touching her, he pushes her gently, as if she were on a swing, and she glides away and returns.
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Sara Ivan for her beautiful line and flexible back (I could have sat through the otherwise forgettable Romeo and Juliet just to see her again), and Violeta Angelova for the quick airiness of her dancing in the charming Divertimento 15 (she was the only one whose pointe shoes didn't clunk).

The Bejart received the heartiest applause of the afternoon and Ivan was lovely in it.

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Thanks guys for noticing my review. I wishI'd had more space.

The PDD evening was fascinating -- at the time it was a LITTLE strange to see a lecture demo, and hte ballets that were familiar didn't have the staggering dancers we're used to seeing in them, so it seemed dim at first-- but in retrospect it's really loomed in my mind and of ALL the things I've seen this year, that one may stay with methe longest.

The "gothic" ballets I was thinking of as La Valse, Sonnambula, and Unanswered Question, since most obcviously they're about immortal longings and flat-out suffering. Sonnambula fascinated me most -- the guy's exploration of what came to be called "the negative space" in the Judson era was so poignant -- he surrounded her without touching her -- i.e., puthis arms in middle-fifth and looped them around her head to foot without touching, and somehow ended up in a deep genuflection and bent over backwards, a little like hte ballerina in hte Preghiera section of Mozartiana -- it seemed like impeccabe logic, and yet it was shocking to see how he ended up in such an extreme position, from which it seemed impossible that he'd be able to remove himself. I was in aweo fh te dance itself and of their attitude towards it -- the man was JUST as remarkable as the sleepwalker, and she was fabulous.

[PS edited to add: Just re-read Quiggin's post; totally agree. I don't know how I could have forgotten his/her wonderful image of hte poet's making a halo over her whole body and ending up collapsed behind her -- but I felt exactly hte same thing he did, I was stunned when I saw him there, incredibly moved -- the whole sequnce had absorbed me so I did not see this ending coming, and it left me shaken. Wish I'd seen Hubbe do it.]

I was not so drawn INTO Unanswered Q but kept noticing how Mark orris had stolen from it [Great poets steal.], especially the 'troubling dream" passage from l'Allegro.

in retrospect, Aopollostands up well - what I noticed at the time was that he was not letting her be reckless, bt after seeing everything that night, I saw it as hte same kind of attentiveness that was tehre all evening -- hte partnering was itself hte star of hte show.

SUnday, Agon was thrilling . The timing was electrifying. THe lady in the pd3 didn't stay on pointe while her cavaliers swapped placed, but it wasn't a big deal, for nobody lost track of the music and they danced there way through it. the first dance for all 12 was unbelievably exciting. Magnicaballi was glorious in the pdd, and so was her parner -- really tuned to each other, in fact, againi it was the was they danced together what was so thrilling.

Also, hte andante ofthe Mozart was sublime. So peaceful, such wonderful phrasing, such long breaths.

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