The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
October 12-16, 2011
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2011 by Alexandra Tomalonis
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet danced to full and happy houses, at least on the two nights I caught the troupe’s most recent Kennedy Center performances (Program A on Friday night, and Program B on Sunday afternoon). Oddly, that was the strongest impression I had of both evenings: the audience adored the performances, judged not just by the sustained applause at the end, but by the hush that descended on the house the minute a dancer appeared on the stage that was sustained until the final curtain fell. That’s the greatest tribute a company can receive, and I hope the dancers could feel it, too.
One exception to this was the welcome SFB premiere of Stravinsky’s “Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fée,'” an excerpt Balanchine reshaped in 1972 from a much earlier work (1937) to the H.C. Andersen “The Ice Maiden,” originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinsky in 1928. It is a beautiful, beautiful ballet, with the small female corps floating on the music as if it were fairy mists, as Elisabeth Holowchuk and Matthew Renko danced their dreamy, deadly battle over art and love. The leading roles were created on Patricia McBride and Helgi Tomasson, and require a swift stamina that is a lasting tribute to both of them. It’s a ballet seldom seen, perfect for a small company, and very well danced by all.
“Sonatine” is another rarely seen work, this a pas de deux to music by Ravel. Balanchine choreographed it in 1975 for Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and it still has a whiff of French perfume. Violeta Angelova (partnered by Michael Cook) showed a sure, pure technique, but seemed a bit young for the role, whose charm and sophistication is built into the steps, but need to be shown.
The big premiere was “Diamonds,” where SFB’s 24 dancers were augmented by dancers from the Sarasota Ballet in what the program termed “an artistic partnership.” “Diamonds,” the third of three movements in Balanchine’s blockbuster 1967 hit, “Jewels,” is a stunning evocation of Petipa’s power and transference of it from the Old World to the New. As Petipa's “Sleeping Beauty” showed that the Russian Ballet had come of age and was the equal to any in the world, so Balanchine’s “Diamonds” showed the power of the New York City Ballet, then just 20 years old and rising to glory. “Diamonds” is a coming of age ballet, and these dancers just weren’t up to it. I was glad to see “Diamonds,” and the audience loved it, but it does the ballet a disservice to show it so weakly danced. The exception here was the pas de deux, danced by Heather Ogden and Michael Cook, who showed, as do all of Farrell’s dancers, a reverence for what they dance, and went beyond that to explore some of "Diamonds'" magic. Ogden’s dancing was exceptionally musical and truly cast a spell worthy of the audience’s hush and rapt attention.
The company also gave us “Concerto Barocco,” “Pithoprakta,” and a very nicely danced “Serenade,” although the dancing throughout the week was surprisingly soft, with little of the edge and nerve that was the hallmark of Farrell’s dancing, and what we like to think of as Balanchine’s style. Music is very much part of Balanchine’s legacy, of course, and The Kennedy Center Orchestra, conducted by Emil de Cou, was at concert level. When I read that SFB had to dance to taped music in New York, I felt very lucky to have attended these performances. Beautiful music is one of the many things that the Kennedy Center has given Farrell, and she has given its audience consistent exposure to some of the masterpieces of 20th century ballet, which it obviously greatly appreciates.
Photos, all courtesy of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet:
Heather Ogden and Michael Cook in "Diamonds."
Matthew Renko and Elisabeth Holochuk in "Divertimento from 'Le Baiser de la Fee'".
Elisasbeth Holowchuk, Momchil Mvladinov, and Courtney Anderson in "Serenade."