- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2000

A two-week celebration honoring the work of George Balanchine — one of the most ambitious dance projects ever mounted at the Kennedy Center — sweeps onto the Opera House stage next week.
The San Francisco, Miami City and Pennsylvania ballets, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow-headed by their superstar, Nina Ananiashvili, will perform in this extraordinary tribute to the most innovative, acclaimed choreographer of the 20th century. The Russian-born Mr. Balanchine died in 1983.
The celebration was organized by Charles and Stephanie Reinhart, the Kennedy Center's artistic advisers for dance. The Reinharts spent more than two years dealing with the logistics of assembling so many dancers and companies into a single fortnight of performances.
Although the total of 16 works to be danced here does not compare with the monumental 76 Balanchine ballets in the New York City Ballet's 1994 retrospective, the number is substantial. The celebration also helps to redress the New York ballet's 13-year absence from this city. Since that company's contract with its orchestra requires that the musicians play wherever it performs, and the Kennedy Center has a contract with its orchestra calling for its members to play whenever musicians are needed in the Opera House, the costs of the New York company appearing here are prohibitive.
Instead, Washington audiences will be treated to a broad spectrum of companies, large and small, dancing a range of Balanchine works. These will range from one of Mr. Balanchine's very earliest, "Prodigal Son" (performed by the San Francisco company), to his last major ballet, the luminous "Mozartiana" (with dancers from the Bolshoi).
Each company has an individual history and a special way of relating to the Balanchine canon. The Miami City Ballet, directed by Edward Villella, one of the choreographer's great stars, is a relatively new company that cut its teeth by dancing Balanchine. The Bolshoi Ballet, founded in 1776, has behind it a long tradition. But since glasnost, it has been increasingly fascinated by the sharply modern, 20th-century style that Mr. Balanchine created and has worked hard to learn it.
The ways these two companies learned Mr. Balanchine's ballets points up the challenge in dance of preserving its great works of art. Unlike the other performing arts — music and theater — which have written texts to guide them, handing down dance is very labor intensive.
With two systems of written notation and the near-universal use of video, dance can be more accurately recorded today than in the past. But almost no dancers, choreographers or rehearsal directors can read the accurate, but complicated, notations. The old-fashioned method of hands-on teaching of the movement remains the favored way of achieving authentic performance.
Thus, when members of the Bolshoi Ballet open the celebration Tuesday in "Mozartiana," we will see a work coached by Miss Farrell, Mr. Balanchine's muse, who originated the central role. When the Miami City Ballet follows this with the "Rubies" section of the choreographer's full-length "Jewels," the company will be guided by Mr. Villella, the dancer with whom Mr. Balanchine worked to create the jazzy, thrillingly athletic movements.
The Balanchine celebration will be rich with such associations.
The concluding programs the next week will feature the San Francisco Ballet in Symphony in 3 Movements, to an Igor Stravinsky score. This is an audacious, high-tension work with a driving urban pulse. Helgi Tomasson, one of Mr. Balanchine's most highly regarded male dancers, slashed across the stage in flying diagonal leaps in the work's 1972 premiere. Mr. Tomasson now leads the mighty San Francisco Ballet, and he has brought the company to its superb international level.
"We are a large company," Mr. Tomasson says, "and I thought it would be good to bring the kind of big ballet that would show off the company. So we're doing one on each program. Besides the Stravinsky, the other one is Symphony in C, to the Bizet score."
His San Francisco company, with 68 dancers and five apprentices, is the largest group coming.
The Bolshoi represents the largest company, but only seven of its members will be dancing here, in "Mozartiana." The company numbers 250, but may not be able to sustain that many dancers. It has been suffering from budget problems, a crumbling building that will require millions of dollars to shore up and modernize and the firing of the Bolshoi Theater's general director, the former dancer Vladimir Vasiliev. Russian President Vladimir Putin fired Mr. Vasiliev this month and put the opera and dance company under the country's culture minister.
Although Roy Kaiser, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, did not have the personal connection with Mr. Balanchine that Mr. Tomasson and Mr. Villella did, he works ardently to present the choreographer's works authentically. The director has sought out important dancers of the past who worked closely with Mr. Balanchine, including Violette Verdy and Allegra Kent, to coach his dancers.
The Pennsylvania dancers will appear the second week and dance the first ballet the choreographer created in this country, the windswept "Serenade."
"I hope people realize how special this is, to see this number of companies in works of this quality," Mr. Kaiser says. "I think it's fair to say they will see different interpretations of Balanchine. And I think we'd be fooling ourselves if we didn't not only expect that but welcome it."
Mr. Tomasson adds: "As long as there are people around who worked closely with [Mr. Balanchine], I think his ballets will be danced in a way that would please him. When another generation comes in, you may see more changes. But I think he would be the first to say it's inevitable that will happen."
But for now, even companies with less direct connection to Balanchine have a standard to be met. His work is safeguarded by the Balanchine Trust, an organization set up at his death by the people who inherited his ballets.
Barbara Horgan, director of the trust, explains that a cadre of former dancers is sent out to teach the steps to companies who request permission to dance the ballets.
One company is the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, directed by Gerald Arpino. His group will appear in the scintillating "Tarantella Pas de Deux" and "Square Dance," a ballet that uses the forms of square dancing and the technique of classical ballet. Nowadays, it is presented as a pure dance, lively and elegant. Originally, a caller sounded out the names of the square dance steps, emphasizing the origins of its floor patterns. The Joffrey performs this version.
Although the company's current repertoire of Balanchine works is slim, the choreographer generously gave the fledgling company permission in its early years to perform his ballets. "He has been such an inspiration to us all stylistically," Mr. Arpino says. "The speed of his allegro movements was fabulous. The way he had his dancers' feet turn in and turn out was his comment on our jazz style."
Miss Farrell is contributing to the celebration in a double capacity, as the director of her own company and as a representative of the Balanchine Trust who worked with the Bolshoi Ballet on "Mozartiana."
Miss Farrell demonstrated the sense of freedom she imparts to her dancers and her care with detail last year when her chamber-sized touring group performed the beautiful slow movement of "Divertimento No. 15" at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Next weekend, her group — augmented by eight more dancers — will perform the ballet in its entirety on the Opera House stage.
She approached the Bolshoi dancers in the same way, leading them through the unfamiliar demands for speed and quick musical response. Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, says the company is delighted to be working with Miss Farrell and hopes to add another Balanchine ballet to its repertoire soon. That probably will be Mr. Balanchine's erotic "Bugaku," which the San Francisco Ballet will dance the second week.
This city has not had such a feast of Balanchine ballets for more than a decade. This unprecedented gathering of companies celebrating the choreographer's monumental contribution to 20th-century art is a fitting flourish for 2000.

WHAT: Balanchine Celebration

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sept. 16, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. 2 p.m. Sept. 16 and 17 and Sept. 23 and 24

PHONE: 202/467-4600

PRICE: $26 to $73

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide