- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

The relationship between choreographer George Balanchine and his last great muse, Suzanne Farrell, was one of the closest — both professionally and personally — in the history of 20th century arts.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, Mr. Balanchine created iconic roles for her — roles that are grand, permanent additions to the ballet repertoire.

However, the way that she danced them — the passion, the daring, the musicality — seemed a much more elusive treasure.

With her eponymous company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, returning to the Kennedy Center on Tuesday, the former prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet is the guardian of far more than the steps he created. She is trying nothing less than to capture the spirit, passion and commitment she learned from “Mr. B” in the 20 years they worked together.

Reaching that goal with her company involves far more than rehearsing ballets. One key, she says, is the daily class she gives her dancers. “Class is such an important part of the process. I work very hard to bring the dancers out of their shells and allow them to be vulnerable while maintaining the integrity of the ballet and its musicality,” Miss Farrell says.

“At the same time, I am encouraging the unique qualities they bring to the ballet. Otherwise, you just rehearse a ballet. There are no technical disasters, but it never goes anywhere. Dance is about more — about energy and life and experiment.”

Miss Farrell has an ever-deepening relationship with the Kennedy Center dating back 10 years, when she was invited to teach a three-week summer course, which continues, for young dancers.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1995, the Kennedy Center invited Miss Farrell to stage an evening of Balanchine works, and four years ago committed itself to sponsoring the Farrell Ballet as an ongoing project. The company has grown each year, with the center, in effect, serving as executive director for the dance troupe — raising funds, arranging tours and handling publicity.

This season has been the company’s most ambitious. It has toured for five weeks, made its first foray to major West Coast venues and is concluding with performances here. Buoyed by critical acclaim and sold-out houses, Miss Farrell hopes to expand the season even further next year, increase her current roster of dancers from 34 to 40 or so and extend their contracts from 13 to 30 weeks.

Looking ahead to 2005, Miss Farrell is planning another ambitious project: restaging Mr. Balanchine’s idiosyncratic, full-length “Don Quixote,” set to a score by Nicolas Nabokov. Mr. Balanchine created it in 1965, at the height of his romantic involvement with Miss Farrell, and even played the don to her Dulcinea at the ballet’s premiere.

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Their personal relationship ruptured when the 23-year-old Miss Farrell married Paul Mejia, another dancer in the company, in 1969. Mr. Balanchine, 65, was heartbroken; the two young dancers left the company and performed in Europe for five years with the Bejart Ballet. Eventually, Miss Farrell returned to Mr. Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, and their unparalleled professional relationship reached new heights.

What she gleaned from their association can be seen in the attention to detail, spontaneity and freedom of her dancers. Far from some kind of rote passing on of Mr. Balanchine’s beliefs, she brings her own considerable talents to the table.

“I’ve always wondered what George saw in me, because he had so many other wonderful dancers in his company at the same time,” Miss Farrell says. “I’m beginning to think one of the things was that I heard the music the way he heard it, not just the counts or a big cymbal crash. I heard the undercurrents, the secondary pulses. I heard what he wanted to see.”

Miss Farrell mentioned as an example “Mozartiana,” set to a Tchaikovsky score. It is a strange and wondrous ballet that the company will showcase here during its first three performances. (All the works on the first program are Balanchine-Tchaikovsky, inaugurating the Kennedy Center’s Tchaikovsky Festival, which continues through December .) “Mozartiana,” created by Mr. Balanchine in 1981 — a time when his health was failing — was his last major ballet. He died two years later, at age 79.

“There are so many underlying impulses and emotions in the music and the dance,” Miss Farrell says. “It’s like no other ballet. And the more one sees it, the more unusual it becomes. George had done ‘Mozartiana’ before in a completely different format. And in his later years, he felt he understood the music better.”

Earlier this month, Suzanne Farrell made another Washington appearance to receive the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony. It cited her remarkable career as a dancer and director. However, said the still-glamorous ballerina, now 58: “I particularly liked that it also listed me as an educator. That’s one of the visions of our company: to go out and educate — through quality dancing.”

WHAT: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in two George Balanchine programs

WHEN: Tuesday through Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 6 and December 7 at 2:30 p.m.

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

TICKETS: $27 to $66

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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