The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
"Mozartiana," “Divertimento Brillante ," “Scene d’amour” from Bejart’s “Romeo et Juliet,” and "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue"
Opera House
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
June 8, 2007

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2007 by Alexandra Tomalonis

Suzanne Farrell is taking the slow, careful road to building a ballet company. Rather than bringing in stars and have them dance whatever they dance, she’s training dancers to support her vision for the troupe, and it’s beginning to pay off. Every year, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet looks more like a company. This year, in “Scotch Symphony,” the corps was much stronger than it’s been on previous outings, and danced cohesively. It's beginning to develop an identity, a School. Couple this with Farrell’s gifts as a stager, her ability to show the outline of a ballet clearly from its first outing (and fill in the details later, if necessary), and an evening at the Suzanne Farrell Ballet is a wonderful way to enjoy sophisticated choreography. The downside is that, until these dancers develop into principals, or Farrell can, or will, use established dancers as part of her ensemble, those details are sometimes marred by underpowered dancing, and that was, unfortunately, often the case this week.

An exception is Bonnie Pickard, a  company stalwart since its early seasons, who bloomed this week in both “Scotch Symphony” and “Mozartiana.”  Pickard reminds me Heidi Ryom, star of the Royal Danish Ballet in the 1990s, another wiry technician who softened and grew into a ballerina through intense hard work and fine coaching. Until this point, Pickard has seemed an able soloist, but in “Mozartiana,” her dancing was both delicate and strong, clearly etching the steps in the air, flowing with the music. If Pickard lacks a sense of mystery, she shaped the choreography beautifully, and her respect for her role, and the ballet, was palpable.

When “Mozartiana” was first performed, there was speculation that the ballet was “about” Mozart, that the two male roles — one in black and another in white tights and a black vest — were different aspects of Mozart's personality, the playful, childlike side contrasted with the elegant courtier and musician. Is it really likely that Balanchine was inspired by "Amadeus"? Rather than being a balletbiography, “Mozartiana” seems to me to use images of the rococo era as part of its text. The ending pose of the Preghiera, for example, with the ballerina surrounded by four little girls who cluster around her and curl their hands like tiny seashells, could be an image from an altar piece in an early l8th century church; the women in the Gigue flutter their fingers, as though echoing the musical trills so popular then. The two men are contrasting figures, but the Gigue (Kirk Henning) uses the step vocabulary of the 18th century fairgrounds while the man in the Minuet (Jared Redick) is not only the ballerina’s cavalier and companion, but a courtier, dancing the more refined steps of the court. Unfortunately, neither Henning nor Redick was quite up to the choreography. Neither had the brilliance, and without technical brilliance, the playful flash of the fairgrounds and the rapier-like quality in the legwork (especially the fiendishly fast beats) in the Minuet were lost.

Lack of brilliance was also a problem with the program’s revival, “Divertimento Brillante,” choreographed by Balanchine as part of a longer work to music of Glinka (“Glinkiana”) for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella. It may once have been a sizzler, but, danced by Shannon Parsley and Momchil Mladenov, it seemed a very bland, classical number. Parsley has gorgeous feet, and had had a big hit a few years ago with her bold dancing in “Who Cares?” but in both “Divertimento” and “Scotch Symphony” (as the soloist) her dancing was weak, and lacked crispness.

Perhaps Bejart-trained dancers could make a case for his “Scene d’amour” from “Romeo and Juliet,” but from the minute Romeo, standing under an enormous moon, starts to wiggle his legs, we know we’re in another world from Balanchine’s, and not necessarily a better one. Flashy lifts (for their time), a stage literally crawling with Capulets and Montagues, and steps set against the Berlioz score — was this on the program because of its worth as a ballet, or to provide a contrast, or because it was one of Farrell’s favorite roles?  Whatever the reason, its inclusion sends a mixed message to the audience. “Scene” got the most enthusiastic applause of the night. “That one was interesting!” I heard one patron say to his companion at intermission. 

The dancers were beginning to relax in “Slaughter” by Friday night. Kurt Froman had fun as the Hoofer, and although Elizabeth Holowchuk was a bit tentative at the beginning as the Strip-Tease Girl, she had gotten into the spirit of things by the finale. The whole cast, from the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ballet to bartenders to the Gunman, brought “Slaughter” to life.

Photos, both by Carol Pratt:
Top, Ashley Hubbard & Matthew Prescott in the "Scene d'amour" from Bejart's "Romeo & Juliet."
Bottom, Shannon Parsley & Momchil Mladenov in "Divertimento Brillante."

Volume 5, No. 23
June 11, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Alexandra Tomalonis

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