suzanne farrell ballet

I attended the first night of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet‘s five-day engagement at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday. I haven’t been to any type of ballet performance in about 2 years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve seen classical ballet live (probably more than 10).


I’ve never been terribly drawn to classical ballet. For one, I seem to have attention deficit issues when it comes to sitting through a full-length production. Secondly, I could never get past many of the dancers’ bodies. Yes, I know most ballet dancers are not anorexic, but some are, and I find it hard to look at them and feel good about what I’m seeing. Thirdly, I’ve just never had much of an appreciation for the discipline of ballet, having little first-hand appreciation of the skill involved. There is also the issue that I am generally more attracted to the idea of seeing something that is driven by emotions or statements rather than by interesting or pretty poses.


My Ballet ADD was not an issue last night, as the program was made up of short pieces or excerpts of longer ones. I’m also pleased to report that either due to Suzanne Farrell’s selection of her dancers, or my position high in the balconies, or my fading eyesight, or some skewed idea of what a body should look like due to all the time I’ve been spending in dance class, I was revulsed by no-one’s body. As for my appreciation of ballet, with several years of dance study under my belt, I now have a much greater amount of respect and appreciation for what it takes to dance ballet well—the extensions, the lines, the turns, the balance, everything. In fact, I suspect that with this deepened appreciation of good technique, I could look at beautiful balletic feats of the human body for long periods of time on end, addressing issue #1 (the ballet ADD). As for the last point of what I am generally drawn to, that is irrelevant once I’ve bought the ticket and have opened my mind to what I am going to see.


Enough about me—you probably want to know what I thought of the show.


Suzanne Farrell was a protégé and muse of George Balanchine, and presents only (?) Balanchine works with her company. With this pedigree, one would expect an impeccable and passionate presentation of her work.


The concert we attended was Program A, which will be repeated tonight (Wednesday the 21st), and on November 24-25. The program was made up of three pieces: Bugaku, Pas Classique Espagnol from Don Quixote, and Chaconne (which will also be included in Program B).


Bugaku is about the Japanese court wedding ritual, set to music by Toshiro Mayuzumi. I found the choreography to be very interesting and at times quite modern (the piece was premiered in 1963), with interesting forms, strange contortions, and non-traditional syncopation that arose from the different points groups of dancers started from in the music. The costumes in were gorgeous, with the tutus used in the first half resembling lotus flowers, and flowing white gauzy robes moved with interesting effect by the dancers’ hands and legs. The dancing was clean, but I felt that it lacked energy or passion. One moment that made me giggle inside was when, dressed in those gauzy white robes, bride and groom get de-robed by their attendants and are left alone to dance a sensual pas de deux in their undies. The giggle factor arose from two things—the shocked murmurs from the proper older ladies sitting near to us, and a memory that it jogged for me, from when I was at the Miami Salsa Congress and a couple “danced” “salsa” with the woman (Katie Marlowe I think it was) wearing nothing but a bra and t-string thong made entirely out of crystals. That is neither here nor there, so I will move on to…


Pas Classique Espagnol, which was enjoyable. My very favorite part of this piece was the male principal (Momchil Mladenov, according to the program), who seemed to float and hang in mid air on every jump. I was also really starting to warm up to the female principal, Ashley Hubbard. Some of the energy and passion that I felt lacking in Bukagu was also an issue in this piece, but Ms. Hubbard seemed to be picking up some speed… when all of a sudden she fell with a big thud. The audience gasped. Luckily, her solo was almost over, and she picked herself up and finished it like a professional. I always feel so bad when I witness things like this… are such incidents common?


The highlight of the evening was most definitely Chaconne, and the lady of the hour was principal Bonnie Pickard. All that energy and passion we felt lacked in the other two pieces, she more than made up for here. My friend remarked afterwards that even though her extensions weren’t as high as the other dancers, it didn’t make a difference since her dancing was so beautiful. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed her extensions at all, I so enjoyed it. Another plus about Chaconne is that it is set to music by Gluck (from Orfeo ed Euridice). I love Gluck. And the choreography was breathtakingly beautiful. The dancing was incredibly clean, even with something like 20 dancers dancing in perfect unison. The partnering was lovely, with the men making their female counterparts seem to walk on air at times. There were visiting dancers from the Cincinnati Ballet in this piece, but you would not have known the dancers were from separate companies. It was very well rehearsed.


Having seen three highlights from his repertoire, I really understand why Balanchine is so revered. They were all so different and unique in their own right. Although I found this evening to be a mixed bag—though it ended on a truly high note with Chaconne, I will definitely be back to the ballet soon.

[this engagement runs through the 25th– go here for tickets]