- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

A poet encounters a sleepwalker; enchanted, he encircles her body with his arms and falls backward at her feet.

The god Apollo, kneeling, lifts the muse of dance onto his shoulders; the two spread their arms softly in the air as if moving through water.

In front of a cloud-like background a woman in white, leaning backward against a man with her long hair loosened, gravely picks her way across stage on pointe.

Welcome to the rich fantasy life of George Balanchine, where haunting movement set to the strains of Stravinsky, Bellini and Gluck bring strange and wondrous things to life.

Thanks to the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, the past week at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre was filled with the intense pleasure of seeing such gems danced with fresh, appealing insight.

The Farrell company — headed by the former ballerina who was Mr. Balanchine’s last great muse — is an unusual group, coming together for only a few weeks each year and yet aspiring to create dance at the highest level.

It sometimes falls short of this lofty goal, but the wonder is how often the troupe brought performances that were moments to treasure during its engagement.

This was particularly true of the second program, a collection of pas de deux excerpted from larger works — all of them chosen by Miss Farrell. She introduced the dances from the stage with illuminating historical anecdotes, but was at her best when she put aside her script and spoke from her own experience.

The program is an interesting concept, well chosen to show Mr. Balanchine’s infinite variety. What it lacked by not showing his major works in depth it made up for by the thrill of seeing, in one evening, the tremendous range and power he brought to the choreography for each couple. Miss Farrell quotes the choreographer, “When you put a man and a woman on stage together, already you have a story.”

Highlights, for starters, included everything that Peter Boal performed. Also a principal with the New York City Ballet, he is one of the great dancers of our time — clean of line, noble, understated but with a vivid presence on stage.

Mr. Boal was a commanding but human Apollo, dancing with a serene Jennifer Fournier as his Terpsichore. He was an elegant support to Chan Hon Goh’s meltingly lovely dancing in “Chaconne.”

Together, he and Miss Goh brought magic to Mr. Balanchine’s stirringly romantic “Meditation,” the very first ballet the choreographer created for Miss Farrell. It is a work that drips with longing and unfulfilled passion. In lesser hands, it could be awash in sentimentality. With these two performers it became an image of lost love that was infinitely touching and tender.

Alexander Ritter was the essence of poetic yearning in his duet with Miss Goh at the climax of “La Sonnambula,” a figure of artificial elegance in the brooding encounter with Shannon Parsley in “La Valse,” and a charmer partnering Frances Katzen in the Moorish folk dance from “Don Quixote.”

Dancing the demanding pas de deux from “Agon,” Natalia Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov were clean and sharp. In the marvelously mysterious “Unanswered Question” set to Charles Ives’ music, Ryan Kelly was intense as the man in thrall to the remote, unreachable figure of Cheryl Sladkin.

Rounding out the program was the ever-popular “Stars and Stripes,” set to marches by John Philip Sousa. Bonnie Picard was a pert Liberty Bell, Jared Redick was dazzlingly sharp and rambunctious as El Capitan. The rousing, flag-unfurling finale brought a large corps of dancers to the stage and finished the fun with a flourish.

While the pas de deux program highlighted Miss Farrell’s ability to draw exceptional performances from individual dancers, the first program’s strong suit was the vivid impression made by her coaching of large groups.

“Tempo di Valse” from Mr. Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” moved with an exciting energy and sweep. Seldom in recent times has a corps moved with so much elongated grace. Shannon Parsley was warm and vivacious as the leader of the ensemble.

Faring less well on opening night was “Mozartiana,” a beautiful, difficult and intricate ballet. Mr. Boal was out, injured temporarily, and the best efforts of Miss Goh, Mr. Redick and Mr. Ritter could not rescue it. The “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” with Miss Fournier and Runqiao Du, was similarly bland.

The evening finished with “Serenade,” which offers one of the great ensemble roles of all time. Miss Farrell’s dancers, both soloists and corps, brought it to vivid life.

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