La Source, Sonate No. 5, In Memory Of....
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
J.F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
November 17, 2010
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2010 by Alexandra Tomalonis
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet opened its one-week, two-program run with one of the most ambitious, varied and meaty programs it's shown here in some time: one very difficult Balanchine ballet, and two company premieres by Bejart and Robbins. One of the hallmarks of Farrell's directorship is that opening nights look finished. The outline of the ballets is solidly there, with the expectation that future performances will fill in details in both staging and dancing.
I'd never seen Maurice Bejart's Sonate No. 5 (set to Bach's Sonata No. 5 for Violin and Harpsichord). It was made in 1970, two years before Balanchine's Duo Concertante, and the two share a few externals: Bejart's Sonate is a conversational pas de deux, danced with the musicians onstage (Corey Cerovsek, Violin, and Glenn Sales, Piano), but the relationship between the two dancers (Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook), as well as between dancers and musicians, is quite different. Bejart uses the standard pas de deux form -- adagio, solos for each dancer, and a coda (here, really a final duet) -- to new effect. I was particularly taken with the last section, in which the dancers clarify their relationship and their closeness without touching. The costumes, by Holly Huynes, rather undercut this idea, as Magnicaballi's red-orange dress was from a different color wheel than Cook's burnt ochre unitard. Photos of the work as danced by Bejart's company show the dancers in black and white, and it would have been interesting to see that. Perhaps the colors were to make the work seem brighter, for here, again, although the ballet was very well danced, its heart seemed muted.
The same issue colored Robbins' In Memory Of, a 1985 work originally for Farrell, Adam Luders and Joseph Duell set to Alban Berg's Violin Concerto...In Memoriam of an Angel. The music suggests a beautiful young woman coming to terms with her own death, and Luders was an arresting Death figure. Here, too, despite some very fine dancing by Elisabeth Holowchuck, Michael Cook and Momchil Mladenov, there was little nuance. It's a large work (there's a corps of seven women and ten men) that would be well worth keeping in repertory, but, like the other ballets on this program, it needs a bit of perfume.
All three ballets need a ballerina. No, a Ballerina, a Farrell, or at least a dancer who approaches her in authority and mystery and risk taking. We've come to believe that great ballets, well-constructed ballets, can exist on their own, that they're dancer proof, but that's not true. This program showed us the works (and for that I am very grateful) but they are as yet uninhabited. What was so wondrous about Farrell's first program here some years back, with the Washington Ballet supporting a collection of principals from a variety of companies, was that Farrell inspired extraordinary dancing from some of these artists. I never saw Susan Jaffe dance so confidently, so beautifully, before or since; Maria Calegari's dancing also rose to a new level. Peter Boal and, to a slightly lesser extent, Chan Hon Goh, revitalized the troupe a few years back. Stars need great ballets to dance, but the ballets need the stars too.
Photo: Elisabeth Hollowchuck and Michael Cook in Robbins' In Memory Of.... Photo: Carol Pratt.