- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

The bond created between two legendary artists choreographer George Balanchine and ballerina Suzanne Farrell was one of the strongest and most productive between creator and performer.

Miss Farrell has a lot to say, in words but even more significantly through movement, about that collaboration and the Kennedy Center is making a major commitment to ensuring she can do so by helping her mold a ballet company that is unique and highly personal.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, now in its third year, returns to the Eisenhower Theater next week with two ambitious programs that include the company's first performances of three major Balanchine works.

They include "Raymonda Variations," one of Balanchine's joyous nods to his classic Petipa heritage; "Who Cares," a witty, sophisticated interpretation of New York City and Gershwin; and "Chaconne," that combines a haunting, dream-like pas de deux and charming courtly dances.

A novelty on both programs is "A Farewell to Music" set to the adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, a contemporary work by Anthony Morgan, a colleague of Miss Farrell's at Florida State University where she became a professor two years ago.

The programs are rounded out with ballets from the company's previous two seasons the transcendent "Divertimento No. 15" and the earthy, gypsy-tinged "Tzigane."

Miss Farrell's company is headed by the same dancers as last year, all distinguished by their purity of style and bright individuality qualities she works for and cherishes. Jennifer Fournier and Chan Hon Goh are both principals with the National Ballet of Canada, Natalia Magnicaballi is with the Arizona Ballet, Peter Boal is a leading member of the New York City Ballet and Runqiao Du, a principal with the Washington Ballet, is well known locally.

The company's relatively short season here (last year it gave double the number of performances) is prelude to a much larger season planned for 2003-2004.

"We are absolutely thinking of it as an expanding venture," Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser says.

"This year we're adding exciting new repertory but we're holding in terms of the amount of time the company is working. That was an explicit choice: we wanted to focus on developing some major touring and that has to be scheduled a year in advance. We're waiting to get booked right now and the expectation and hope is it will be a fairly long national tour next season. And I have some international ideas I'd like to pursue but I want to get our touring capabilities down right before we do that."

Mr. Kaiser explains what is novel about the way the company functions.

"It all starts from Suzanne, from her repertory vision," he says. "It's very exciting to work that way. We sit down with Suzanne and ask, 'What do you want to do this year?' We see if it's feasible and then we go out and do it rather than saying, as many companies do, 'We have 27 dancers for 36 weeks, what are we going to do to fill that time?'"

Miss Farrell, for her part, is thoroughly involved in expanding the company.

"I want to do this as full time as the opportunity allows," the ballerina says.

"It's a lot of work finding the dancers, finding costumes, teaching the ballets, getting the music together, deciding on casting, making programs. I work with the lighting, I work with [costume designer] Holly Hynes.

"Besides the steps I want them to have the spirit and the energy that Mr. B imparted," she continues. "Every ballet that he did has its own energy and its own integrity. I want them to see them see poetry, the musicality, the different ways he heard the music. [His steps] are so intriguingly wedded to the music in a way that's not obvious, and yet after you see he did it that way you say, 'Of course, that could be the only way.'"

According to Mr. Kaiser, this leads to a company with an unusual mission.

"Suzanne works in a very personal way," he says. "She does it all herself, and it limits the scope of the company. I don't think she'll ever want to have three ballet masters or mistresses who are doing things when she's not in the room. This is her vision: her working one-on-one with each dancer; she's a true coach. Her goals are to impart her particular view of this choreographer on them.

"There's only so much one human being can do," Mr. Kaiser continues, "and that limits the size of the operation, which is just fine with me. We're not trying to build another American Ballet Theatre or New York City Ballet; we're trying to give this great artist a chance to work and pass on her knowledge and show the audience how she sees these works."

Mr. Kaiser is, in effect, acting as executive director, although he says Kennedy Center officials Jason Palmquist and Kristen Brogden deal with the company on a day to day basis and he is more of a strategy consultant. But the center's resources are at Miss Farrell's disposal. Funding, planning tours and handling publicity and advertising are their responsibility.

Besides the longer tour in the works for the 2003-2004 season, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet will play a significant part in the center's mammoth Tchaikovsky Festival scheduled to run from late fall 2003 into the new year.

"The idea of the Tchaikovsky Festival is to take a view of him through many art forms," Mr. Kaiser explains. "We'll have opera, ballet, symphonic music, chamber music, song. It's the first festival since I've been here which takes all the art forms and allows collaboration amongst them collaboration in the sense that an audience member has a chance to understand Tchaikovsky from so many different perspectives."

The project starts with a National Symphony concert. Gil Shaham and Yefim Bronfman will play the Tchaikovsky Concerti and Yo Yo Ma will play the "Roccoco Variations." The Kirov Ballet will do Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake" in the Opera House but before that the Suzanne Farrell Ballet will dance at least a week in the Eisenhower focusing on the Balanchine-Tchaikovsky repertoire.

That is a rich source to tap that includes "Serenade," the Diamonds section of "Jewels," "Ballet Imperial," "Theme and Variations," "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,"and "Mozartiana." Each is a masterpiece; several were created for Miss Farrell, and all of them are illuminated with the bright memory of her own incandescent performances.

WHAT: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

WHEN: Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., matinees next Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

TICKETS: $36-$50

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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