Suzanne Farrell Ballet needs more than Balanchine nostalgia and history
By Sarah Kaufman,
Neither Suzanne Farrell’s glittering name nor the coaching prowess behind it is enough to give her dancers the luster they desperately lack.
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, performing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, needs to offer more than nostalgia and history. Yet this is the sum of its strengths.
Nostalgia: Ballet fans are drawn to the promise of its name, and who doesn’t want the respected former ballerina’s enterprise to succeed, shaky as it is with its part-time dancers and just a few weeks of rehearsal a year?
History: The Balanchine works her company offers round out our understanding of the choreographer’s gifts, whether they are well-known ballets Farrell danced in her career at the New York City Ballet or unfamiliar ones she has revived. She unfailingly restores them with care. And in her troupe’s best seasons, with dancers of high professional quality and interpretive strengths, she has produced some winning performances.
But judging from Wednesday’s opening, this isn’t one of those times. The casting and the choice of works presented problems in the first of the troupe’s two programs. Three of the four ballets were company premieres — “Danses Concertantes,” “Valse-Fantaisie” and the Intermezzo section of “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.” None was ready to be performed. And all four works — capped by “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” — are minor Balanchine creations. They are undeniable historic artifacts, given their maker, but their pleasures are slight, especially when danced as tentatively as they were on Wednesday. (Program B includes another company premiere, “Prodigal Son,” as well as “Slaughter” and “Divertimento No 15.”)
Begin with “Slaughter,” the strongest piece. It’s trouble when this fluffy whirl of cliches is the best part of the night. Balanchine created it as part of the 1936 Richard Rodgers-George Abbott-Lorenz Hart musical “On Your Toes,” and it has a certain vintage pie-in-the-face charm. The choreography is not the selling point here — it’s simple and repetitive. What carries this piece is personality and verve, with a big side of ham.
Pavel Gurevich, as the thickly accented Thug, and Kirk Henning, as the Hoofer trying to dance his way out of a mob hit, had flashes of the requisite style. But Elisabeth Holowchuk’s Strip Tease Girl couldn’t tease a hairdo; she was trying too hard when she needed to let go.
“Danses Concertantes,” which Balanchine created in 1944 and redid in 1972, has a dash of “Slaughter’s” show-biz style and handfuls of just about everything else. It’s as jaunty and oddball as the Stravinsky score that inspired it. Each of its four trios is a curious little world unto itself. If only Holly Hynes’s bright tutus in a riot of velvets — fuchsia, deep blue, butterscotch and lime jello — could have pumped some energy into the dancers, who plainly needed more rehearsal. Turns were off-kilter, arms uncertain.
One young woman kept stealing looks at her feet. Well, if you must stare at your feet, stare at them like you mean it! But that’s what was missing throughout this program, even through the tepid, strained “Intermezzo,” with that meltingly lovely music (Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg). You simply couldn’t believe in it. The atmosphere and the attitudes were all out of whack. If the steps are quirky, dance them like it’s a sock hop on Mars and you’re drunk on starlight! If you’re in a romantic pas de deux, let’s see some feeling for your partner.
Only Heather Ogden, in “Valse-Fantaisie,” abandoned herself and took the rest of us with her. Elsewhere on the program, the pretending was too loud.
Program A will repeat Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Program B will be performed Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.