The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
September 19 & 20, 2009
by George Jackson
copyright 2009 by GJ
Suzanne Farrell's company will be dancing on larger Kennedy Center stages later in the 2009-10 season.This intermissionless program of familiar excerpts was intended, no doubt, to let the dancers appear together in public prior to going on tour and also give home audiences a free preview. Of the three items by George Balanchine and the one by Maurice Bejart, it was the former's Mozart "Divertimento No. 15" which needed a more expansive location. Seeing the dancers up close, though, is always instructive and - despite casting being much the same - some individual performances differed significantly on the two evenings.
According to the printed program it was the "Pas d' Action from Divertimento 15" we were seeing. I'd call it a "Suite from ...". Two men, Michael Cook and Ian Grosh, stated the Theme. These dancers are contrasting types, with Cook classically tempered, musically attentive, yet a bit tight at times whereas Grosh is showy, open, pliant. Six variations followed: four for women (Kendra Mitchell, Lauren Stewart, Sara Ivan and Natalia Magnicaballi), one for a man (Momchil Mladenov) and then another for a woman (Violeta Angelova). Next came five overlapping duets (one for each of the women, with Cook and Mladenov serving double duty) plus a formal but brief coda for all eight members of the cast. It was Ivan's incisive attack which stood out in "Divertimento" at the first of the two performances.
With long limbs, a streamlined torso and a sharp, light ability to angle her joints, Ivan is admirably suited for classicism a la Balanchine. For the second "Divertimento" she seemed a little withdrawn.
Violeta Angelova, looking quite young and with a facial resemblance to New York City Ballet's Wendy Whelan, gave her first performance bursts of spontaneity that were like sunshine suddenly breaking through clouds. Yet there were also the clouds when she seemed to be thinking much and didn't appear confident. Angelova's second performance was surer but I missed those bursts. Kendra Mitchell, short and pert, has speed and at the second performance she sparkled in the solo and gave her supported adagio much dignity. The tall Lauren Stewart looked awkward the first evening but by the second had gained considerable control, smiling more - which brought out a likeness to the young Marnee Morris of yore.
Natalia Magnicaballi can be counted on to be smoothly professional from performance to performance. She doesn't, though, illuminate Balanchine for me, not in the neoclassicism of "Divertimento" nor in the split atom classicism of the "Agon" pas de deux. Is it her contrary body type, temperament or both? Frederick Ashton choreography is said to be entering the repertory and that may suit her more. The versatile Michael Cook was the man in "Agon" (to Igor Stravinsky's music) . He also partnered Angelova in Balanchine's comedic "Stars and Stripes" duet (to John Philip Sousa's score) and, especially the second time, had dash.
Momchil Mladenov, a partner with insight and a sensitive dance actor, isn't at his best as a classical soloist. I suspect the cause isn't attitude but anatomy - an eccentricity in the line of leg and foot. He was more stretched for his "Divertimento" solo in the repeat performance, but really came into his own in Bejart's ballet.
The "Scene d'amour" of Bejart's "Romeo et Juliet" (music by Hector Berlioz) has been in the Farrell company's repertory for some time but is now being danced convincingly. It is a duet with supporting players and its concerns are love, strife and death. Mladenov, alone on stage at first, conveys Romeo's urgency as he waits for Juliet. He takes his hands from covering his eyes and hugs himself. His body responds sensually as a ripple, a wave of agitation, passes down from the chest into the legs. And Romeo's body keeps responding as he reaches for the absent Juliet - until she arrives and they can embrace. Mladenov moves with a plasticity that has continuity and substance. The boots he wore, cloth ones, flatter. Sara Ivan too has a material fluidity to which she gives a lightness and buoyancy. Her sharp Farrell wrists keep the impetus acute. There isn't the Bejart dancer's movement that springs from passionate breath control, but what Mladenov and Ivan do is an apt equivalent. Cheers greeted the two leads at the first performance's curtain calls.
Tastefully colorful new lighting by J. Russell Sandifer has been designed for all the selections except "Divertimento" which was danced in its traditional brightness. Good recordings of the music were used. More people lined up for these free performances than the 300 seat Family Theater accommodates. The considerable overflow could watch on a hallway screen in the Kennedy Center.