The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: ‘Balanchine, Béjart, and the Bard’ at The Kennedy Center

Suzanne Farrell – still fairest of them all

From the early 1960s until the late 1980s (except for a five-year escape to Belgium), Suzanne Farrell reigned as George Balanchine’s muse at the New York City Ballet where she was happy to embrace every technical challenge her mentor created for her. This of course, led to some of the most enduring classical ballets of the last century.

WalpurgisnachtBallet:Violeta Angelova, Kirk Henning, and Melanie Riffee. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor Gallery.
Walpurgisnacht Ballet: Violeta Angelova, Kirk Henning, and Melanie Riffee. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor Gallery.

Three decades after the master’s death, Suzanne Farrell continues to keep his memory alive, as indicated last night at The Kennedy Center Opera House when The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company opened its shortened engagement through Sunday. Through all the recent changes at the Center – a new president, huge construction plans, and the 7 p.m. curtain for the ballet season – Suzanne Farrell remains a constant reminder of the glory days of ballet.

What a gift she has given to a company she founded in 2000. And how wonderful The Kennedy Center has allowed her to share both her own choreography as well as the artists who have influenced her over the years, especially “Mr. B.” With her intimate experience in Balanchine’s works, Farrell carries forth the master’s legacy via her company’s annual performances and workshops in DC. She stands alone as a coach for the young ballerinas, especially those who are chosen to dance the roles she once did. Let’s hope she will continue this legacy for another 10 years, at least.

This time around Farrell features three of her top guys, Bejart (she danced his works in Europe during that aforementioned interlude); “The Bard,” celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s works; and Balanchine, of course.

Last night, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet opened The KenCen’s ballet season looking like a very different troupe from previous years. The company has expanded the corps de ballet – I counted 24 ballerinas in the company premiere of Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet. She’s added international dancers to the roster, and less tangible is the “feel” of these ballerinas who demonstrated confidence on stage and a sense of freedom to enjoy the dance.

Picture two-dozen ballerinas, their long hair pulled back in ponytails, then let loose to sway this way and that to Charles Gounod’s bouncy score from the opera Faust. Scott Speck conducted The Kennedy Center Orchestra with that same liveliness, and the lighting design by Jeff Bruckerhoff softened the pas de deux with Violeta Angelova and Ted Seymour. Allynne Noelle sparkled, too, in this ballet and later in Emeralds with Jordyn Richter, Ian Grosh rounding out the trio.

It was nice to see Maurice Bejart on the ballet bill as he was a strong influence in Farrell’s career. I would have preferred something more daring than Scene d’amour from Romeo and Juliet, danced to a moonlit stage designed by J. Russell Sandifer. Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook were the lovers in this rendition.

The strangest choice was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II pas de deux. Dancers Heather Ogden and Kirk Henning were fine – it just didn’t gel as a showpiece for Shakespeare or Farrell.

Emeralds: Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook, and Melanie Riffee. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor Gallery.
Emeralds: Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook, and Melanie Riffee. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor Gallery.

Balanchine dominated last night’s program with two of his classic works, Walpurgisnacht to open and Emeralds (from his Jewels trio) to close the program. Folks were treated to a world of green, the Emeralds backdrop and, especially, the stunning costumes designed by Karinska – worth the ticket price to see this restaging by Farrell and Joysanne Sidimus. 

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with two 20-minute intermissions.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: ‘Balanchine, Béjart, and the Bard plays today at 1 PM and 7 PM and tomorrow November 1, 2015 at 1 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, Northwest, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

Previous article‘Dames at Sea’ at The Helen Hayes Theatre in New York City
Next articleWomen’s Voices Theater Festival: ‘Darius & Twig’ at The Kennedy Center
Carolyn Kelemen
Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here