It was bittersweet last evening when The Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed the Forever Balanchine Farewell at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. Sweet because the muse of dance master George Balanchine understands how to showcase his works with dignity and grace. Bitter because it’s unclear who will carry on Mr. B’s legacy in the loving ways that Farrell has presented these dances since the Center’s 1999-2000 ballet series.
For the past four decades I have covered dance in our area for newspapers, magazines, and, most recently, online. During that time I had the privilege of seeing the New York City Ballet perform Balanchine’s works at the company’s Lincoln Center home, here at the Kennedy Center, on tour, and at Merriweather Post Pavilion when the company was in summer residency in the late 1960s.
The memory of watching NYCB dance Balanchine’s masterpieces still remains vivid, though haunting at times. With the passing of Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, his co-director at City Ballet, and many of the former dancers, one questions who will continue to stage those ambitious ballets, especially with a full corps de ballet (up to three dozen dancers) as we saw last night. True there is the George Balanchine Trust, which licenses these coveted ballets, but Suzanne Farrell still reigns supreme in capturing the nuances in the Balanchine canon.
Deservedly, Suzanne Farrell received the Pola Nirenska Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, just before the curtain rose last evening. This award honors those who have made outstanding and lifetime achievements in dance, presented by Rima Farber and Douglas H. Wheeler, longtime supporters of the arts. “This is a thank you from thousands of dance lovers with love and admiration,” said Wheeler as they paid tribute to Farrell, who stood quietly, yet glowed in black velvet and brocade.
Loveliness and refinement have been trademarks of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and last night’s concert was no exception. From the opening Chaconne with ballet music from Orfeo ed Euridice, under the watchful eye of conductor Nathan Fifield and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra–loved hearing the strings–to the closing ballet Gounod Symphony, a grand finale with the entire company of 30, each and every dancer looked smashing in Farrell’s new designs for the old ballets. Kudos to Costume Designer Holly Hynes for her artistic touches.
Gounod Symphony ballet was created by Balanchine in 1958 and premiered by Farrell’s company in 2016. The stark black and white costumes and geometric patterns seemed quieter this time around. While Balanchine was a master at taking away superfluous movement or gestures, Farrell’s gift is tempering the ballet, especially the ballerinas on pointe who hardly made a sound as they crossed the stage in difficult patterns.
Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook led the company in this neo-classic work that best represented Balanchine in the opening program. Set to a hummable score by Charles Gounod (Symphony No. 1 in D major) and fine lighting design by J. Russell Sandifer, here is a ballet that soars. Farrell’s go-to couple took charge with intricate partnering, she turning inside and outside multiple times while he guided her to a sweeping finish.
Their bravura and, especially, nice chemistry was also seen in Tzigane, a gypsy ballet with music by Maurice Ravel. Another fine gesture was Magnicaballi’s acknowledgement of the violinist who was, indeed, brilliant, though not credited in the program.
Suzanne Farrell was in the original cast of Meditation, a Tchaikovsky/Balanchine ballet first choreographed in 1963, an intimate evocation of love and loss. Last evening, Elisabeth Holowchuk, her hair flowing freely, captured her mentor’s ease of movement as she melted into the arms of Kirk Henning, who reminded this writer of the City Ballet’s more recent soloists, perhaps Justin Peck or Robert Fairchild.
I would be remiss not to note Chaconne’s principals, Heather Ogden and Thomas Garrett, plus other standouts, especially the redheaded ballerina who caught my eye right from the beginning. The violet background frieze and mauve costumes add an allure to this rarely performed ballet, first danced in 1976, a tribute to Balanchine’s penchant for Greek mythology.
As Balanchine retrospectives diminish, let’s hope his ballets will continue to be danced in the full glory that was seen last night.
Running time: 2 hours with two 15 minute intermissions.
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet dances Forever Balanchine Farewell Performances tonight, Friday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m., tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 9, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Center Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600, or purchase online. Want to hear more from Suzanne Farrell? Visit her Website at www.kennedy-center.org/FARRELLNOTES.