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The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Deconstructing The Balanchine Couple

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Eisenhower Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
December 5, 2003

by Clare Croft
copyright © 2003 by Clare Croft

The fledgling Suzanne Farrell Ballet has spent the last seven weeks touring the U.S., but it saved its Balanchine Couple program for Washington audiences. On Friday night, the troupe performed a series of nine pas de deux, all introduced by Farrell herself. Although the crafting of the program was somewhat unusual, there were several moments of quality dancing as well as insight into Balanchine’s proces. There wasn't an obvious thematic link among the selections, and it might have helped if Farrell had explicitly stated that the duets were presented in (nearly) chronological order. Without this explanation, one might wonder why Meditation, with its contemporary dress and hint of story, followed the stripped down, black and white Agon, for example? Each may be a gem in its own right, but what do they have to do with each other? How do the nine chosen duets (also Chaconne and excerpts from Apollo, La Sonnambula, La Valse, Don Quixote and Stars and Stripes) fit within the Balanchine repertory? Normally, these are questions left for post-performance discussion, program notes, critics or historians, but the inclusion of Farrell’s mini-lessons shifts the responsibility to provide context and cohesion onto the performance itself.

Farrell’s speeches were not unhelpful. Before Meditation she shared an anecdote about her inability to perform one of the steps in the ballet Balanchine created for her. When she approached him about the possible need for a change in choreography, he replied that it was fine if she danced the phrase awkwardly, Meditation was about love and that sometimes love was awkward. But there was a lot of talking for an evening about dancing. The speeches, as Farrell pointed out during a technical glitch, grew shorter as the evening progressed. Introducing the last ballet, the “Fourth and Fifth Campaigns” from Stars and Stripes, she spoke only briefly about its display of Balanchine’s deep gratitude to America. Her introductions to the first ballets, Apollo, La Sonnambula, and The Unanswered Question, were essays with too many “howevers” for easy listening.

Even without a real through line, it was interesting to see these mostly short duets in a successive string. Often at the ballet, I think it’s amazing that in 2003 when women have claimed so many progressive victories in society, they are still portrayed onstage in simplistic, superficial ways. In contrast, watching Balanchine’s roles for women I sincerely appreciate the complexity he provides them. In Apollo, Terpsichore (Jennifer Fournier of National Ballet of Canada) leans on Apollo’s shoulder (Peter Boal) in a low arabesque. He supports her weight and pulls her forward, but her pointed finger directs the movement. In La Sonnambula, the next pas de deux on the program, the question again arises of who leads whom. Chan Hon Goh (also of National Ballet of Canada) as the sleepwalking apparition rapidly tiptoes across the stage unaware of her surroundings due to her state, but Balanchine still gives her control over herself: she always eludes the grasp of the Poet (Alexander Ritter), stepping over his arms laid out to trip her.

Most of Farrell’s troupe danced the balletic snippets very well. Boal is one of the best men onstage today, proving so in Meditation and Chaconne. In Mediation, he filled the entire stage, staring longingly towards the sylph-like Goh with despair deflating his rib cage. The couple danced Mediation with much more connection and feeling than they had on the Thursday program. Goh and Boal also danced Chaconne beautifully, perhaps because the ballet allowed her to wield her natural lightness more readily. In Farrell’s intro to the ballet, she told of asking Balanchine why the ballet ended on the diagonal and he said the diagonal allowed the dancers to stay together longer. Goh and Boal were so lovely together, it’s a shame the final diagonal could not have been even longer.

Another fine performance came from Natalia Magnicaballi in Agon. Her spidery frame wrapped into tight balls then expanded along long, sharp lines throughout. The young Ryan Kelly made the connection between his arms and back an evocative one, dancing the bare-chested lead man in The Unanswered Question. Unfortunately, I saw too much in that ballet of what you are not supposed to see—the four men in black that manhandled the woman (Cheryl Sladkin) through a series of complicated lifts. Another painful moment came in the evening’s close, as Bonnie Pickard struggled through much of Stars and Stripes, perhaps because she and her partner Jared Redick were poorly matched height-wise. And, after an evening of duets, it seemed strange for the corps to suddenly join the couple in Stars and Stripes’ “Fifth Campaign.”end.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 11
December 8, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Clare Croft




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