"La Sonnambula", "Monumentum Pro Gesualdo" & "Movements for Piano and Orchestra", "Eight by Adler"
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
November 19, 2010
by George Jackson
copyright 2010 by George Jackson
The emphasis of the Farrell company's other program during its home week was, rightly, on dramatics. Not that dance style and technique are ever out of sight in ballet but the potential to convince of the bill's three very different works depended in large measure on acting skills. I'm counting "Monumentum" and "Movements" as a single piece because Suzanne Farrell cast it that way - one and the same ballerina throughout, with distinct partners and dissimilar corps groups for each half. It was as fine a performance of the George Balanchine diptych as can be found these days. "Sonnambula", earlier Balanchine, looked studied. Still, the production likely is headed the right way. Paul Mejia's "Eight by Adler" earned its chuckles.
In "Movements", Balanchine shows the modern world of work equality, free love and individual independence. The ballerina and danseur interact one-on-one; they experience the sensual and the exuberant both jointly and when solitary; they function in a society of singles (an all-female corps). Stravinsky meanwhile probes the democracy of Schoenbergian tone rows. "Movements" is an image of time present - until nearly the end, when the danseur kneels to the ballerina.
"Monumentum and Movements" seems austere and understated until one discovers how concentrated are its dramatic nodes.
"La Sonnambula" was set by Balanchine at a party, a strange one for today's generation of dancers. Games of hide and seek are played for fun and for real, rules of conduct are oddly applied and relaxed, instinct and etiquette partner each other. It is expected of the guests at this party to overlook constraints they can not help but notice and it is the role of the entertainers to distract from the facts. That could all happen without incident were it not for an intruder, the Poet who does not avert his gaze. On the ballet's first night in repertory, too few of the Farrell company's dancers felt comfortable in the Gothic climate of this tale. Momchil Mladenov, as the baronial host of the party, did. One sensed he had been reared among shadows and strictures. Michael Cook's Poet was very appealing but not bold enough. The Poet must purge himself of all signs that he is a balletic partner. Both of the leading women have distances to go. As the Sleepwalker, the embodiment of victimized truth and blind justice, Violeta Angelova has the anatomy and ability to stab the stage floor with angry toes and then skim serenely over stumbling blocks. She doesn't yet alternate the two modes instinctively. Kendra Mitchell, as the complicit Coquette, was too static. One of the entertainers, Sokvannara Sar in the Moorish duo, gave the sense that his leg beats had to be bright and clear in order to hide an evil lurking in the baronial halls. The production's lighting didn't bring out the most suggestive colors in Andre Levasseur's costumes or in James Morgan's castle. Yet with adjustments and more experience, this production of "Sonnambula" could leave the provincial behind and begin to soar - like the Rieti/Bellini music's flights into realms of the transcendal.
The nightclub act "Eight by Adler" (Richard Adler's arrangements of diverse musical numbers) is a vehicle for a single ballerina-showgirl and her backup of nine males. Eight of the backup are chorus boys, the frisky sort. One only, Ted Seymour, is a grown up lover in his duet with the ballerina. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and conductor Emil De Cou are onstage with the dancers, giving the Adler arrangements a touch of class and elegance. The star, who gets to wear both toe shoes and, later, high heels, is Natalia Magnicaballi. She carried off the spotlight role with some flair after having danced the "Monumentum and Movements" ballerina with energy and nuance. I've not seen her better than on this night. I found no hidden gems in Mejia's choreography as when Balanchine goes pop. These "Adler" dances are slight and sparkle like sequins.
Magnicaballi was partnered in "Monumentum" by Mladenov, who has the presence and skill to insinuate all the Renaissance and Gesualdo imagery in the choreography. Cook, aptly, was the more up-to-date yet classical danseur in "Movements". It takes dancing, acting and a disciplined imagination to bring out all contained in these ballets.
Photo, by Carol Pratt: Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in Balanchine's Movements for Piano and Orchestra.