- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

The pinnacle of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet's recent engagement at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater was George Balanchine's "Chaconne," illuminated by the dancing of Peter Boal and Chan Hon Goh and Miss Farrell's overall staging. The ballet is both mysteriously romantic and grand in manner, echoing the score by Christoph Willibald Gluck.
Mr. Boal, a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet, is a model of beautiful classical technique, nobility of manner and gracious partnering all the while racing through a role that calls for difficult changes of direction executed at breakneck speed. For him, the style is bred in the bone: He has been dancing Mr. Balanchine's works on stage since he played the young Fritz in the master's "Nutcracker."
Miss Goh, a principal with the National Ballet of Canada who has appeared with the Farrell Ballet before, outdid herself with her freshness, charm and delicately nuanced phrasing.
Dance is tantalizing ephemeral, an art that vanishes in the air even as it is being performed. So the intensity of the moment belonged to those two golden dancers and their memorable performance, but the long-term interest of the Farrell Ballet engagement was the growing luster of a company led by the ballerina often called "Balanchine's muse."
Her company is indeed a niche ballet: Its special focus is to showcase Miss Farrell's unique perspective on the works of Mr. Balanchine, who was inspired by her musicality and vibrant dancing to create some of his finest works.
The Kennedy Center is making a long-term commitment to sponsoring her group, with ambitious plans for touring next year and an extended appearance here next fall as part of its Tchaikovsky Festival. That will mean a tripling of contract weeks for the company and perhaps the strengthening of the level of some of the dancers.
The version of "Chaconne" the company danced here is a truncated version that omits some duets and trios but retains the essential elements. Miss Farrell has staged it with a fine sense of pacing and the talent she has for drawing out performances that are clear and crisp yet touched with daring.
In addition to "Chaconne," the ballerina has added two other Balanchine ballets to her company's repertoire: the enchanting "Raymonda Variations" and the Gershwin-inspired "Who Cares?"
All three have been too long absent from Washington stages and it was sheer delight to see them again, staged with meticulous care. The Farrell dancers, with varying degrees of expertise and only three weeks of rehearsal, were stretched to their limits and sometimes beyond, but they always moved with great attention to detail. From the tilt of their heads to the expansive reach of their arms they danced full out, with appealing freshness and zest.
"Raymonda Variations" is one of the prettiest ballets Mr. Balanchine concocted, and although it looks like a pink confection it is so joyously musical that it goes beyond mere prettiness. Again the team of Miss Goh and Mr. Boal gave an inspiring performance, leading an ensemble that danced with quick, light finesse.
The variations the choreographer created for five soloists are Petipa-like in the way they plumb the infinite variety of feminine technique, one fast and bright, another creamy and legato, one full of quick pirouettes, another of sustained balances.
"Who Cares?" provided a nice change of pace. Against a New York skyline, five men and women flirt and frolic, change partners and dance to such Gershwin tunes as "Somebody Loves Me" and "Lady Be Good."
The mood changes, becoming more seriously romantic in a final section for three ballerinas and a lone male.
Runqiao Du, a leading member of the Washington Ballet, was the pivotal male, dancing a duet with each woman, who each had a solo as well.
A true ballet cavalier, Mr. Du needs to be more cavalier in another sense of the word by adding a touch of swagger and braggadocio as he partners each woman in turn, before erupting in a jaunty solo of his own.
His partner in "The Man I Love" was Jennifer Fournier, another principal from the National Ballet of Canada. The two were smoothly synchronized in a duet as formally beautiful as Mr. Balanchine's more obviously classical pas de deux.
The other soloists were the vivid Natalia Magnicaballi and Sharon Parsley.
The programs also contained two works that were problematic in different ways.
"A Farewell to Music," the only non-Balanchine work on the program, was a droopy affair, ostensibly a rumination on the death of Mozart, whose Clarinet Concerto's Adagio movement provided the score for the ballet. Performed barefoot by four women and one man all wearing white dresses the movement style was latter-day Isadora Duncan, the pioneering woman who took off her corsets and danced in Grecian togas at the beginning of the 20th century.
"Farewell" began with the dancers treading in pace, facing offstage, casting backward glances. It involved a crucifixion and a lot of running around the stage with soft turns.
The other problematic ballet was "Variations for Orchestra," created by Mr. Balanchine at the end of his life for Miss Farrell. It was dance stripped to its essentials: one supreme dancer, dressed in a simple leotard, moving idiosyncratically to a spare score by Stravinsky. It had the kind of simplicity one sees in the final works of a great master such as Henri Matisse with his cutouts or Michelangelo with his last, almost abstract pietas.
Admittedly, that kind of stark art is not for everyone. And so Miss Farrell has come up with a highly imaginative idea: She has the soloist (Bonnie Pickard in a striking performance) enter, dressed in a livelier costume a bright red leotard with fringed skirt and begin to dance until suddenly a large silhouette of a dancer, echoing her movements, is projected behind her. Then begins a fascinating interplay: Sometimes the dancer and the gigantic shadow are in sync, sometimes the shadow goes off on her own.
The audience found it amusing as did I and it probably warmed to this version more than it would have to the original. One has to admire Miss Farrell's fanciful concept. But somewhere along the way Mr. Balanchine's intent has been lost. The first time I saw the performance I was intrigued. The second time I deliberately focused on Miss Pickard, ignoring her shadow and felt I was much closer to Mr. Balanchine's meaning.
Rounding out its engagement, the Farrell Ballet danced two works seen here in previous years "Tzigane" and "Divertimento No. 15."
"Tzigane," set to Maurice Ravel's dramatic score, is sexy and unbridled, tinged with a middle European gypsy flavor. Miss Magnicaballi was flamboyant and Miss Fournier more contained in the demanding role, with an intense Momchil Mladenov and suave Mr. Du as their respective partners.
If there is a dance heaven, surely there is a special place reserved in it for Mr. Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15" set to Mozart's music and matching its sustained inspiration. Miss Farrell has staged it many times, and each time her keen awareness of its beauty has made for a glowing performance.
The present cast was led by Gavin Larsen, Lynda Sing, Miss Parsley, Miss Pickard, Dmitri Fateev, Mr. Mladenov and Miss Fournier and Mr. Du, who stood out for their elegance and aplomb.
Some audience members expressed disappointment that Miss Farrell did not join her dancers on stage at the final curtain, but Friday night's audience lucked out when she made a graceful speech while presenting this year's Capezio Award to Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.

WHAT: Suzanne Farrell Ballet
WHERE: Kennedy Center

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