writers on dancing


Honors and Ratings

28th Annual Kennedy Center Honors
House & elsewhere at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
, December 4, 2005
by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Complaining about the amount of pop music at this year's Honors, I was given a plausible explanation: anticipated television ratings. Two hours worth of this year's Honors will be telecast by CBS on Tuesday, December 27 and, according to some of my table mates at the post-performance supper dance, two of the five performing artists being honored aren't expected to draw the public at large. Industry wisdom has it that Suzanne Farrell is an unknown, except among balletomanes whose number is insignificant. Julie Harris, the actress, was popular once but her audience has aged and may be in bed by 9 PM EST. Tina Turner, who belts out rock songs, will be the big draw, along with her rock & roll colleagues. Second comes Tony Bennett, whose smooth-style singing has made a comeback. Robert Redford is still known, more as movie director and producer now than as movie star. I confessed to my mentors that I was a fan of the underdogs. Farrell and Harris are worthy representatives of classical traditions. Farrell actually of two, dance and music, because her company performed to Mozart amidst all the pop.

The Honors are more than a performance. They have become an event. The public aspect starts before 6 PM on the first Sunday in December as a crowd gathers outside and inside Kennedy Center's doors to the long Hall of States. People making an entrance pass through the doors and along the hall's red carpet. KC staff is there to welcome the most prominent. Cordoned off on the right stands the general public. On the left is the press, mostly still photographers and TV-camera men. Status is measured by the amount of applause granted a new arrival by the public and by the number of photographers' flashes. This time it was hard to say who won, politicians or artists, although all five Honorees were among the top crowd pleasers. They were easy to recognize wearing the Honors "decoration" as a pendent on a striped ribbon placed over the shoulders and anchored in back. These decorations had been bestowed the previous evening at a dinner hosted by the Secretary of State, and the Honorees were arriving from an afternoon party at the White House. Farrell, of course, knew how to manage her entrance. Dressed in a black evening gown and long matching gloves, reminiscent of the debutante in "La Valse", her upright yet easy bearing and measured pacing signaled dignity and pleasure. The "red carpet" list supplied by Kennedy Center had 113 principal names (not counting escorts). From the dance world there were Debbie Allen, Jacques D'Amboise and Carolyn George, Cynthia Gregory, Paloma Herrera, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade, Arthur Mitchell and Charmaine Hunter, Maria Tallchief and Edward Villella. (Allen, de Lavallade, Gregory, Herrera and  Holder, along with the absent Damian Woetzel, were the dance members of the Artists Committee for the 2005 Honors). Too many people to mention came from the world of government and politics, including Justice Breyer, Justice O'Connor (a known ballet fan) , Newt Gingrich and lots of Kennedys. The President, the Vice President and their parties, due to security, did not appear publicly until they entered their Opera House boxes. Critics have never made it onto the red carpet list but there was an occasion in the distant past when some were applauded (a little) on entering the Hall of States.

The presentation, which began around 7:15 PM, addressed the honorees in the following order: Bennett, Farrell, Redford, Harris and Turner. For each, there was a laudatory speaker, an on-screen biography, more words plus specimens of the honoree's art or art by close colleagues. For Farrell, one of her best known partners, Jacques d'Amboise, was the principal speaker. She was given a somewhat new biography in which the reason for her departure from George Balanchine and his New York City Ballet was said to have been the desire to experiment by dancing Maurice Bejart's choreography and dwelling in Europe. After 6 years away, while seeing a performance by NYCB, she felt homesick and wrote Balanchine asking to return. Not mentioned is Farrell's husband at the time, dancer Paul Mejia, nor her on-stage partnership with Peter Martins, although Martins was briefly, anonymously, shown on screen. Additional speakers about Farrell were ballerina emerita Maria Tallchief and Farrell's very first partner at NYCB, Arthur Mitchell. As climax, 16 dancers of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet—Alexandra Ansanelli, Runqiao Du, Natalia Magnicaballi, Momchil Mladenov, Erin Mahoney-Du, Matthew Prescott, Bonnie Picard, Shannon Parsley, Kristen Gallager, Sara Ivan, Gia Artese, Amy Brandt,  Elisabeth Holowchuck, Evelyn Kocak, Lisa Reneau and Ilona Wall—performed live the finale of Balanchine's "Divertimento #15". It was sprightly! As the leads, Ansanelli looked very classical and Du full of energy and flow. And the music was Mozart, although no orchestra was visible (the difference between live and recorded sound may not mean much in theaters that have electronically amplified acoustics; in this instance, there probably was a human orchestra playing backstage).

For supper, the Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer was crowded with tables from south to north i.e., from the entrance lobby of the Concert Hall to that of the Eisenhower Theater. Our menu consisted of cobb salad; beef tenderloin, roasted potatoes, asparagus; apple and pear strudel with clove ice cream; Ravenswood chardonnay 2004 and merlot 2002; plus demitasse. The dance floor and band were infront of the John F. Kennedy bust. On that floor, the last to hold sway were Mladenov and his lovely red-gowned partner (Herrera?). Not far away, Ansanelli, in a black-and-white patterned broad gown, sat down resolutely on a chair and couldn't quite stifle a yawn. For Farrell she had danced better than I'd seen her dance before, and now it was late—almost 2 AM.   

The inaugural Kennedy Center Honorees, the year was 1978, were singer Marian Anderson, dancer and actor Fred Astaire, choreographer George Balanchine, composer Richard Rodgers and pianist Arthur Rubinstein.   

Volume 3, No. 45
December 5, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Eva Kistrup
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Sandi Kurtz
Alexander Meinertz
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Tom Phillips
Naima Prevots
Susan Reiter
Lisa Rinehart
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel
David Vaughan
last updated on December 5, 2005