It's a rare and sacred moment when a treasure is lovingly dusted off, kissed by the bearer and handed over to a worthy successor. And it happened last night.
George Balanchine choreographed "Meditation" for Suzanne Farrell more than 30 years ago as an expression of his feelings for her, his last and most important muse. It has remained for Farrell a talisman of their relationship, and no other dancer has ever performed her role. Until now. Christina Fagundes danced it with tender understanding.
Standing before a capacity audience at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater--where the second night of "Suzanne Farrell Stages the Masters of 20th Century Ballet" was to be performed--a slightly choked-up Farrell spoke of the sensation of seeing "Meditation" for the first time. As a dancer Farrell never saw the ballet, she lived it. Within its eight minutes was the arc of her career: the passion that she shared with Balanchine, her reliance on him as he relied on her, her eventual departure from him and the New York City Ballet, and her continuation on her own.
How rewarding it must have been for her to have seen the ballet exquisitely danced by Fagundes and Ben Huys, in the role originally danced by Jacques d'Amboise. All the works presented by the small group of dancers Farrell has assembled for this series of performances have been carefully rehearsed and well danced. But this duet stood apart from the others.
It tells a simple, timeless story: A man is lost, grieving, with his face buried in his hands, when a vision of a woman appears to him. They dance lovingly together, but then she slips away, leaving him as she found him.
Fagundes and Huys danced it like a sonnet, imbuing it with a piercing beauty. She was by turns ghostlike and vigorously real, unfolding into grand, full-blown positions while seeming to sail on the yearning Tchaikovsky score. Huys combined ardor with restraint, and left a genuinely moving impression of loss. The two surmounted the difficult task of making the work their own, breathing into it their own meaning and elevating it beyond a mere sketch of the past.
In 1963 "Meditation," the first work Balanchine made for Farrell, quietly signaled a revolution. The duet ushered in a new dancer, a new look--loose hair, overt romanticism--and a new era. Farrell was to redefine the American ballerina as Balanchine did American ballet. Seeing the work anew--Farrell last performed it at the Kennedy Center a quarter-century ago--is a revelation of all these things, and a gift.
"Tzigane" also marked a cataclysmic time in Farrell's career: It was the first work Balanchine made for her after she returned to his company from a five-year hiatus. Kyra Strasberg performed the Gypsy-inspired dance, struggling somewhat in the solo but gaining confidence in her duet with Philip Neal.
Also on the program were three well-groomed works reprised from Thursday's opening night: Jerome Robbins's "Afternoon of a Faun," the scene d'amour from Maurice Bejart's "Romeo and Juliet" and excerpts from Balanchine's "Divertimento No. 15." The last, especially, was gloriously performed--it is a cornucopia of classicism, difficult and majestic. The dancers were uniformly superb, and though the Terrace stage was too tiny for its grandeur, one relished seeing such fine dancing in so intimate a setting.
With extremely humble resources--taped music, few design elements, a handful of dancers, none of them a "star"--Farrell has shaped a raft of intelligently danced and artistically significant performances. One can only wonder what dazzling heights she could reach with richer assets. Certainly she should be given the opportunity.
Performances continue, with alternating programs, through tomorrow evening.