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Suzanne Farrell Ballet at Kennedy Center Oct. 23-27, 2002

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(from Washington, DC) The first performance of program A was very satisfying to me even before "Raymonda Variations", led by Chan Hon Goh and Peter Boal, had concluded. Goh was a delight, Boal was superbly light, soft and clear, not too forceful, and the demis were fine in their variations for the most part: I can quibble about Kristen Gallagher, subbing for Lynda Sing in variation V, a thankless spot after Goh's variation IV. And the corps gave me consistent pleasure.

I didn't care as much for the modern-dance novelty, "A Farewell to Music", but at least it let the dancers do something for it - a lot for it - which is more than I can say for the Adam and Caniparoli premieres I saw in Cincinnati last weekend. Or is it that Farrell has dancers who are so much better than Cincinnati Ballet's?

And then came "Variations for Orchestra". When I had last seen this in the early 80's, I think the choreography for the three slow variations in eleven voices didn't say much - Farrell rolled on the floor each time, if I remember correctly. (Does anyone here remember? Maybe I can check my tape of the broadcast when I get home.) Now someone - I have a hunch who she is - has given these passages choreographic voice - or voices, to be pedantic: The dancer continues to perform (on her feet) while her shadow appears on the backdrop - wait - the shadow, which gets a little separated in time early on becomes independent in the later variations - not a shadow at all - another "voice" entirely. And after the (visible) dancer somersaults off as before, the "shadow" takes a bow. I have no problem with this "tampering" with the master's (unfinished) work (if indeed much of it is Balanchine's); what counts with me is whether the result is successful. I haven't quite made up my mind about this, but I think the concept is good, maybe excepting the cute bow-taking at the end. (The "shadow" is not credited in the program.) Bonnie Pickard was the visible dancer this evening; I saw Natalia Magnacaballi in the afternoon dress-rehearsal, and think her less effective.

A very nearly full-length "Who Cares?" completed the program, led by Jennifer Fournier, Magnacaballi (my favorite in the cast), Shannon Parsley, and Runqiao Du in Jacques D'Amboise's part: That's the problem, and, poor boy, there's not a lot he can do about it, not being D'Amboise or Bonnefous or somebody. But he gives it his all, evidently, and is everything his partners, all three of them, need, as far as I can see, and that's something he can be proud of. As can all the men.

Now to see if this program gets even better as it gets more performances.

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You bring up a good point, Jack. I don't know that any of Balanchine's work was ever "frozen" as long as he himself was alive. There always seemed to be some "tinkering" going on, even in works that were of long establishment. I recall going away for four years to active duty Air Force, and then coming back to see a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and being somewhat flummoxed by what I remembered Kay Mazzo doing from before I left, and what I found her doing when I got back!

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I’ve been wondering about "Variations for Orchestra." The program states that its premiere was on July 2, 1982, while Repertory in Review dates a "Variations" for the same music to March 31, 1966. That piece had a corps, but Farrell has staged a solo. Repertory in Review only goes through '76. So did Balanchine cut the corps parts in '82? And did he redo Farrell's part?

The piece reminded me a little of the solo in Tzigane to Stravinsky – not the steps, but the feel -- especially with Pickard's red dress, another change from the '66 version apparently. I love her dancing, but this didn't do much for me, and the shadow, although it was interesting, was distracting. I found myself watching for correspondence and divergence, and I don’t remember the piece as well as I’d like to. On Sunday I think I’ll try to ignore it and just watch what Balanchine actually choreographed.

As for Tzigane, I usually enjoy it more for the music than the dancing, at least during the opening solo, but for once, during Jennifer Fournier's performance of the solo as part of the lecture/demonstration, I got caught up its sensuality and detail.

Farrell made laugh when she said she wished we could all dance a Balanchine ballet. Me too. Michael Jordan holds basketball camps for anyone with a couple of thousand bucks, or whatever it is, and Farrell can no doubt use more money for her company. But I think I'm too old to learn entrechats.

Raymonda Variations put a great big smile on my face from the moment the curtain went up, and almost lived up to my burnished memory of seeing it 12 years ago in Saratoga with Nichols and Woetzel. I’d pay to see Boal in anything, and he and Goh seemed very much at ease with each other, which wasn’t the case with the Scotch Symphony I caught last year.

In Who Cares, I thought the corps captured the spirit and the accents much better than the female soloists. But the whole thing was delightful anyhow. I'm so grateful that this company comes here every year now!

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I believe the eighties version of "Variations" was done for Farrell alone, and it was a completely new piece, not a revision of the ballet from the sixties. It was made for the second Stravinsky festival but trailed the festival proper by a week or two. I remember reading somewhere – can't quite recall offhand, perhaps it was the Buckle bio – that Balanchine was in exceptionally poor shape at the time, and people thought that Farrell had done a significant part of the choreography herself, which may account for the departures she seems to be taking with this revival.

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(from Washington, D.C.) Mel, that's interesting, but isn't it a little different ethically when the original artist changes his work, versus someone else doing it? One can argue that he's still making it - few things are made all at once anyway - whereas someone else - what right do they have? Part of my answer is, never mind, look at the result, and judge that, not the means used to achieve it. We say in politics, the ends don't justify the means; but in the arts, the end is the only justification for the means.

kfw, the '82 "Variations" was the only one I saw. If my memory is serving, the shadow can't distract you from Balanchine's choreography because those sections are new; what he had her do isn't there, it's where there is no shadow. dirac's post is consistent with Farrell's autobiography, where on p.260 she says he said he didn't want to do the same thing as in 1966. After the premiere of the last version, she writes, "...he said with great satisfaction, 'The music is a mess, and now, you're a mess. You look just like the music. It's wonderful.'" My feeling after seeing it twice now is that it's enlarged but, especially considering what I just quoted, radically changed.

Program B went tonight, and for me, Jennifer Fournier's Andante, with Runqiao Du, in "Divertimento No. 15", was the high point: She let everything unfold so clearly, naturally, vividly, inhabiting the part without apparent effort. In Sixth Variation, in faster tempo, she looked a little stiff and holding back, not fulfilling what she did so completely. I also enjoyed the dancing of Shannon Parsley, Bonnie Pickard, and Lynda Sing; Gavin Larsen seemed less focused.

I want to say a little more about "A Farewell to Music", which followed the intermission. I don't think it's very good, and so I don't like the attention it's getting. It's not very good because it doesn't sem to grow out of the music in an organic way but instead to come out of Morgan's inferences about how Mozart must have felt at the time he wrote it based on his biography. Morgan doesn't seem to me to have listened closely, or hardly at all. The worst example of this might be the short male solo which does show some anger, I suppose, but I don't hear anger in this piece. (Compare the Queen of the Night's aria in the same composer's "Magic Flute".) Lots of poignancy, especally in the repeated descending phrase for clarinet, but poignancy ran through Mozart's music for many years before his last ones. (Emotionally, he matured early, I think.)

Not only that, we sometimes have to "read" what the dancers are doing, for example, right at the start they are rising on the balls of their feet and lowering their heels to the floor over and over and we read this as walking in place; then some look back, etc. Dancing is more effective for me if you don't have to translate it, or trace out the choreographer's conceptualizing. And I miss the "luminous spacing" of some choreography, most importantly Balanchine's, that of his heirs, Fred and Merce, and others, which enhances legibility not to mention the exhilaration of their dances.

But the dancers' continuously flowing, clear and exact movement do a lot for this dance, and J. Russel Sandifer's golden side lighting makes for sharply-etched images on stage.

So why did it get the article in the Post (thanks anyway, dirac), and why are camera shutters clicking away during it the last two nights? I suppose the answer is that it's new, new, new.

Then after a pause,"Tzigane", with Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov. Lacking the electricity of old, but we don't really expect to see the likes of the original cast. May this one get a little reckless with it with familiarity... Well, one can hope. So far, so good. Holly Hynes' costumes put the boys in earthy brown instead of green, which I like better, but the girls are in neater costumes which make them look like "richer gyps[ies] than I was", as Farrell put it at the pre-performance demonstration last night.

A slightly cut "Chaconne" to close, with Goh and Boal. Superb opening adagio, to the famous flute melody, reference to the myth a little underscored by Goh's slightly anguished expression in this Elysian but "private" part, in simple white costumes. Some of Boal's movement in "Chaconne" was more snapped and so less visible and effective than in "Raymonda Variations", or, rather, the effect is more of physical virtuosity than dance expressiveness. But this is as good a place as any to note that none of his landings from jumps are audible, here or in "Raymonda" on the other program, so virtuosity serves expression (of lightness) too. Then after the interlude of the nine-girl chorus, the principals reappear in gold-ornamented white costumes (and customary pleasant expressions) for the more formal, "public", and celebratory part, minus the original pas-de-trois I remember, where the boys carried invisible lutes and the girl was turned in attitude on bent leg, bringing the evening to a quicker conclusion.

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Jack, you've read me correctly.:) It is a vastly different thing for someone to change his own choreography as long as he's still alive, but something else for another to change it after he's gone! But dirac's point is well-taken, too. I remember the '82 version of "Variations" and the discussion surrounding its authorship. Could it be that Farrell is "telegraphing" a message, that the later "Variations" was mostly, if not all her doing?

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Jack and dirac, thanks for the responses, and Jack, thanks especially for your review.

For my money (which hasn’t paid for many Tzigane’s), Magnicaballi was sensational last night.

A Farewell to Music looked a lot better to me the 2nd time around, although I agree that the angry section, among other sections where the choreography isn’t lyrical, seems more than a little out of place. But I found the lowering and raising of heels beautiful, and the opening and closing grouping and looking up and around reminded me vaguely of Dances at a Gathering.

The rest of the program was a foretaste of heaven.

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(from Washington, D.C.) There's a larger issue about the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's performances I might have said something about right away, except it was happily in the back of my mind, and that is comparison with how other companies perform Balanchine's ballets. After the choreographer's death in 1983, or after he left the theatre for what seemed, against our strongest hopes, the last time in 1982 (He had come back after his heart attack, after all.), we wondered what would become of his ballets, especially since he hadn't seemed much interested. He thought they would fade as different generations of dancers, with different bodies and abilities, came along, etc.

So it was a joy to see the company continue to dance for a time as though he were still there on a stool in the second wing on the left. But then in the course of one season in 1986, it seemed to many of us, incredibly, because we didn't want to believe it, that NYCB forgot how to dance Balanchine. Arlene Croce put it more vividly: "These ballets have had their hearts ripped out!" I took this as a reference to the concept of the zombie, the living dead; the dancing had become a routine going-through-the-motions. Physical virtuosity, rarely more, often less. And that's apparently what's on view today, as evidenced as recently as the Sunday performance on SAB Workshop weekend: The performance of "Kammermusik No. 2" looked like a technical exercise, and the "Swan Lake" which had opened the program looked to me to be a shambles. (The Wheeldon and Forsythe works looked a little fresher and rounded, but still oddly dim.)

Farrell's company is one of those which restores beating hearts and warm circulation to these great ballets. (Remember Homans's NY Times article's title?) These performances, with some few exceptions I've perhaps too pedantically noted, are vivacious in ways I haven't seen in my now infrequent visits to the New York State Theatre since that fateful visit in 1986 (as I recall; I don't have my program collection here in Foggy Bottom) when the only dance my friends - not ballet aficianados, incidentally, but generally cultured people who occasionally saw dance - and I were really glad to have seen was one of the solos in "Who Cares?". It seldom rises to quite the level Balanchine's company regularly achieved, raising my pulse and the hair on the back of my neck, but it is so good to see them glowing with life, sparkling, inhabited, again, raising my spirits generally.

A note for the record about this "Who Cares?": I had said it was nearly complete, but I guess the only thing missing is the original penultimate number for the three solo girls, "Clap Yo' Hands", which Balanchine abandoned long ago. I liked the way it finished off that section of the ballet, but on tour in Chicago, they couldn't get the tape of the Gershwin piano recording to play properly, and maybe problems like that led Mr. B. to drop it. The costumes, from SFB, are not the originals, and in the case of the men, that's really too bad, as the original Chanel designs, with pastel green jerseys open at the neck, medium gray slacks, and the masterful touch, neckties striped diagonally in complimentary pastels used as belts and tied at the left hip, were so much more in keeping with the jazz-classic-boy-girl tone of the ballet than what we see, just fluttering scarves at the waist (and blue tee shirts). But if you never saw Chanel's designs, it's no big deal. And Gallagher looks fine here among the "boys and girls" as the corps used to be called in this.

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(from Washigton, D.C.) You're welcome, kfw. Let us know what you think, too.

Mel, do you think she's saying, "This is mine now and I can do what I want with it."? Her account in her autobiography is pretty clear about it being Balanchine's work, also the opening solo of "Tzigane". I think when he worked alone with her his work looked more different than it did with anyone else, but it's still his. And I think what she's done enlarges "Variations". I'm looking forward to seeing it again Sunday.

Another spectacular performance this evening of "Tzigane" by Magnicaballi and Mladenov, who matches her intensity and general elan, and puts Fournier and Du's compact and efficient performance at the matinee in the shade. If I didn't have a tape of Them dancing "Tzigane" I would want one of tonight's performance. (Trivia department: Magnacaballi keeps both earrings on all the way through, too.) And in the opening "Divertimento No. 15", the orchestra's expressive shaping of phrase under Ron Matson's direction was rewarding to hear. Both this afternoon and this evening, though, it was "Chaconne" that was the biggest deal, grand and marvelous. No, not to the level of Them, but expansively and powerfully fine, maybe better this afternoon, again with good accompaniment from the pit in the chaconne proper (I've heard the opening flute melody more grandly and yet plaintively played.) Goh's power as a dancer grows, I feel; dynamite that Magnicaballi is in "Tzigane", I feel she wouldn't know what to do in "Chaconne", although I expect she could learn!

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(from Washington, D.C.) How did this run go over with the public? I spoke to a Kennedy Center administrator, who said she thought sales were averaging 90% or so. (The same one who had been telling me how hard it was to sell mixed bills of story-less ballets.) I could see only the main floor, which looked about that or better, right through. And this afternoon, at the end of the last performance, 3/4 of the main-floor audience, I'd estimate, got to its feet and stood, applauding. If they want more, they may get it...

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Jack, in all my watching of Suzanne Farrell, I never saw her change anything without reason, like she'd been told to, and while she might drop a variation from a ballet for good cause, I doubt if she would take off so on her own. Perhaps these were rehearsal ideas that were never acted upon from the days when she and Mr. B. were assembling "Variations".

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This is probably what Balanchine would have called "too fancy," but it occured to me that the shadow in Variations could be seen as Suzanne's, looming over her successor, Bonnie Pickard. It certainly looked a lot like Suzanne, even though it wasn't. At any rate, I thought it added a marvelous new element to the work, without in the least detracting from the original choreography, which, as Jack Reed says, is all there in the sections without the shadow.

Peter Boal's silent landings in Raymonda Variations and Chaconne were truly marvelous. As Alexandra wrote in her Washington Post review of Chaconne, they "gave the illusion that he was bounding from cloud to cloud."

In my opinion, Who Cares? came off the least well. Runqiao Du is an honest, earnest, and talented dancer, but he has no trace of the razzmatazz necessary. I liked Shannon Parsley's Stairway to Paradise very much. Who Cares? could have used Farrell Company males from previous years -- Ben Huys or Philip Neal.

Divertimento No. 15 was heavenly and Natalia Magnicaballi's Tzigane dramatic and sexy. It seems to me that Chan Hon Goh has become the reigning ballerina of the Farrell Company -- but everyone deserves praise. As Jack Reed says, the heartbeat of the Balanchine legacy is here. And next year, the company is slated for bigger and better things.

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I'd like to add that the orchestra, led by the Farrell Company's music director, Ron J. Matson, sounded better to me than in past seasons. I positively reveled in its sound during Raymonda. The clarinet soloist in A Farewell to Music, David Jones, was wonderful all five times I heard him.

Like last year, Suzanne never came out for a curtain call. So it was a treat to see her before Friday night's performance presenting the 2002 Capezio Dance Award to Michael M. Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center. She compared him to the great ballet impresario of her youth, Lincoln Kirstein.

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Well, only SOME of the audience was on its feet, and it wasn't for Suzanne, because she did not come out to take a bow. The same was true last year. I have a feeling she doesn't come out because she doesn't want to upstage her dancers. If she did, there would surely by a standing O which would go on and on. Maybe some of the standers knew some of the dancers, but I have a feeling people were just appreciating Balanchine. The audiences were quite enthusiastic at all the performances.

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Farrell Fan, did you go to the first or second weekend last year? I recall "the band", as an enthusiastic friend called the orchestra, remarking on how they had pulled together their performance in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue", got steadily and rapidly better. As they did this year too. Another indication that this whole operation would perform even better given more time, i.e., money, and that its current excellence is limited by that and, generally speaking, not so much by the talents of the people present.

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You guessed it, Jack, I was at only the first week's performances last year. So I never got to see Peter Boal riding to the rescue of the overworked Ben Huys. But I was happy to hear that everything came together better, including the band, in the second week. I understand that the Kennedy Center is now doing some fundraising specifically for the Farrell Company, so maybe that will help keep these wonderful dancers together longer. The projected six-week tour next October/November followed by an early December run at the KC certainly provides cause for optimism. :)

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