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About the Change

Suzanne Farrell Ballet

‘Scotch Symphony’, ‘Concierto de Mozart’, ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’, ‘Scene d'amour from R&J’

June 2007
Washington, Kennedy Center Opera House

by Oksana Khadarina

© Carol Pratt

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“Ballets have short lives,” once said George Balanchine, one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century a genius who redefined classical ballet and made it part of today’s culture.

Balanchine’s muse, the legendary ballerina Suzanne Farrell, is currently the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Advisor for Ballet and also artistic director of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and is committed to prolonging the legacy of her mentor. Farrell and her company make it possible to give new life to some of his choreographic gems. Their new project, entitled “The Balanchine Preservation Initiative,” aims to restore “lost” and forgotten masterpieces of the great choreographer and to share them with the audience.

Concluding the 2006-07 ballet season at the Kennedy Center, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet presented two mixed-repertory programs featuring choreography of George Balanchine and Maurice Béjart. The company performed the Adagio from Concierto de Mozart (Program A) and Divertimento Brillante (Program B) as part of The Balanchine Preservation Initiative.

Scotch Symphony, a dance of exquisite visual and musical beauty, opened Program A. This three-part ballet, set to the last three movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s symphony with the same title, is Balanchine’s homage to Scotland. As is the case with most of Balanchine’s plotless ballets, Scotch Symphony is a reflection of music in movements, a classical dance with subtle allusions to the 19th century romantic ballet. The choreography intricately fuses court dances with folk-inspired movements.

The painted backdrop, depicting a castle surrounded by forest and mountains, created a fairyland-like atmosphere. The leading dancers were beautifully framed by an ensemble of eight couples. The opulent costumes (long white tulle dresses for women and traditional Scottish kilts for men) accentuated the visual attractiveness of the dance.

Bonnie Pickard and Momchil Mladenov in Scotch Symphony
© Carol Pratt

Although Scotch Symphony is an abstract dance, there is an elusive, tragic love story in the second part of the ballet. The luminous pas de deux of the principal couple a light and tender love duet is the heart of the ballet. The ballerina gently takes her partner’s hand as if inviting him to follow her in a fairyland. Hypnotized by her beauty and charm, he happily obeys... just to see her suddenly vanish from his sight as if she never existed. It seemed as thought the ballerina was only his vision, or a dream, so desirable and unattainable.

On opening night, Bonnie Pickard danced with elegance and graceful serenity. Everything about her character was mysterious and ethereal. Pickard was wonderful in a technically challenging sequence of turns and supported arabesques. Runqiao Du was a capable partner, delivering a solid performance equally expressive and vibrant. Shannon Parsley sparkled in a dazzling solo as The Girl in the Red Kilt – a centerpiece of the first movement.

Scotch Symphony’s finale is a showcase for the entire cast. Balanchine introduces a magnificent sequence of dances evoking a traditional Scottish military parade, where the ensemble mirrors the movements of the leading couple. Throughout the dance, the corps de ballet had moments of strength and weakness. Yet in all, it was a delightful and inspirational performance.

Over the course of his career, Balanchine created only a few dances to Mozart’s music. Most of them disappeared from the active dance repertory, joining the ranks of the “lost” ballets. The few that survived the test of time, such as Divertimento No 15 and Mozart Violin Concerto, are widely regarded as Balanchine’s masterpieces.

Elisabeth Holowchuk in Concierto de Mozart
© Carol Pratt

One of the “lost” ballets is Concierto de Mozart, an enchanting dance inspired by Amadeus’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and originally created for Argentina’s Ballet of the Teatro Colon in 1942. The Adagio from this ballet, a lyrical pas de deux, epitomizes Balanchine’s words: Dance is music made visible.

Mozart’s delicate, tranquil melodies were immaculately reflected in the eloquent, exquisitely shaped steps of the dance. Elisabeth Holowchuk and Momchil Mladenov glided onstage in perfect harmony, completely surrendering to the music. They elegantly mirrored the musical passages, dancing with astonishing musicality and clarity of lines. The Opera House orchestra, led by Music Director Heinz Fricke, delivered a truly outstanding reading of the score.

Maurice Bčjart also had an important place in Farrell’s life. From 1970 to 1974, during her painful breakup with Balanchine, the ballerina was a member of Bčjart’s company Ballet du XXe Sičcle. She paid tribute to the prominent French choreographer by including in her program a duet, Scčne d’amour, from his acclaimed evening-long 1966 production of Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Hector Berlioz.

This pas de deux has little resemblance to the raditional “Balcony Scene” of other productions of Romeo and Juliet, particularly those set to the famous Prokofiev score. Scčne d’amour epitomizes the drama of Berlioz music and theater of Bčjart choreography.

On the moonlit stage, decorated with a deep blue backcloth, Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott portrayed the inseparable star-crossed lovers. They danced with irresistible passion and élan as if overwhelmed with joy of being together and being in love. It was an emotional miniature spectacle, showcasing eclectic modernism and the symbolism of Bčjart’s choreography. Dressed in a white shimmery tunic with her long hair pooled in a pony tail, Hubbard was an exuberant Juliet. Prescott gave a wonderful characterization of Romeo. The couple danced with a soft, humorous touch and vibrant spark, beautifully executing tricky holds and lifts. At one point Romeo knelt before Juliet as if in a moment of adoration and reverence. At another moment, she wrapped her legs around his waist and they spun across the stage like two happy kids at play.

Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott in Scene d'amour from Bejart's Romeo and Juliet
© Carol Pratt

In the end, the lovers find solace in each other’s arms: The concluding image of the dance depicts Romeo and Juliet lying down on the floor with their bodies intertwined in a final, nostalgic embrace.

“I entertain with steps” could be a slogan to Balanchine’s Broadway hit Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, a piece choreographed for the 1936 Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes and the final number on the program. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue is not typical Balanchine ballet; the choreography, dominated by Broadway and tap-dancing, has only a few classical steps. Sparkling with humor and sexiness, this dance celebrates the life-saving power of love and is sheer fun and entertainment. The Farrell dancers excelled in every moment of it, culminating the evening with an exciting and joyful performance.

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