- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

Suzanne Farrell says that when she worked with George Balanchine, he often would say, “Oh Suzanne, you know what I want here — do something.”

The “something” she has done is create the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, dancing here this Thanksgiving week in a program distinguished by its fascinating mix of Mr. Balanchine’s works and the fresh, radiant way they are being performed.

Any one program can only hint at the protean range of his choreography; this one ranges from the delicate Gallic grace of “La Source” to the jazzy sexiness of “Clarinade,” the melodrama of “La Valse” and the choreographer’s astounding plunge into Romanticism —”Duo Concertante,” the only work danced by the company before.

“La Source” captures the flavor of 19th-century France with its formal designs set to the lilting music of Leo Delibes.

The cascade of dancing for the female corps led by Bonnie Pickard showed an exemplary unity and, more than that, a freedom and spontaneity that were a pleasure to see.



The male lead in “La Source” was created for a brilliant but rather wild young dancer. On opening night Tuesday, it was performed by a very different person, Runqiao Du, a senior principal in the company who also is a principal with the Washington Ballet. Mr. Du is basically an elegant classical dancer, but he met the stylistic challenge with ease, performing with dazzling speed and great elan. His partner, Shannon Parsley, another longtime member of the Farrell Ballet, was bright and sprightly. As she becomes more familiar with the role, she undoubtedly will play more with its delicious rhythms.

From the beginning, Miss Farrell has inspired her company to dance with musical alertness and freedom, traits that were hallmarks of her own glorious dancing during the years she was known as Balanchine’s muse.

These qualities were stressed when her company began five years ago under the sponsorship of the Kennedy Center. Since then, the company has gone from promising to one of this country’s important cultural treasures.

An excerpt from a 1964 ballet, “Clarinade,” to a score by Morton Gould originally played and commissioned by Benny Goodman was a fetching novelty Miss Farrell reconstructed as part of a plan to ferret out lost Balanchine gems. She put her own stamp on it by having the musicians appear onstage in semisilhouette — a clever choice.

“Clarinade” was given a witty, jazzy performance by Erin Mahoney-Du (another dancer who appears with the Washington Ballet) and Momchil Mladenov.

Mr. Mladenov was last seen here last spring in the title role of Miss Farrell’s ambitious staging of “Don Quixote.” That ballet’s theme is encapsulated in the extraordinary pas de deux “Duo Concertante.”

When the choreographer was working on “Don Quixote,” he observed, “I think everything a man does he does for his ideal woman.”

That ardent remark not only propels the full-length “Don Quixote” but is at the heart of “Duo Concertante.” That brief duet is a paean to woman as man’s ideal.

Set to an Igor Stravinsky score played vibrantly onstage by Oleg Rylatko and Glen Sales, the piece begins with its two dancers, Natalia Magnicaballi and Matthew Prescott, standing quietly and listening.

Eventually they start to move, at first strictly to the music’s bidding, an almost textbook example of how music inspires dance. Gradually the dance exerts itself, gaining its own force. Then, on a darkened stage, the woman’s hand appears in a small spotlight; a man’s hand reaches for hers, takes it and shapes it into a beautiful curve, kisses it, and he sinks to his knees. The gesture of homage is later repeated.

This act of adoration skirts the edges of sentimentality, but the rigor of what has gone before anchors it and leads to this sublime union of music and dance.

The evening ended with the doom-laden “La Valse,” set to Maurice Ravel’s similarly apocalyptic waltz music. The orchestra, directed by Ron J. Matson, gave good support all evening, but the Ravel score demands more power than its small size can muster.

Alexandra Ansanelli — formerly of the New York City Ballet, about to join England’s Royal Ballet — was the heroine of this macabre tale, dancing with blazing abandon. Alexander Ritter was her strong partner, Mr. Mladenov the figure of Death. Later performances undoubtedly will iron out small wrinkles, such as a fumble at the climactic moment when the heroine plunges her hands into the long black gloves offered her by Death.

This ambitious work marks another company milestone as Suzanne Farrell continues to explore and illuminate the glory of the Balanchine legacy.

***1/2

WHAT: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 2:30 and 8 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

TICKETS: $29 to $84

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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