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Alexandra Tomalonis

Suzanne Farrell, Staging Gracefully
At the Kennedy Center, an Apt 'Masters'

Alexandra Tomalonis
Special to The Washington Post
October 22, 1999; Page C2

Watching a Suzanne Farrell staging of a ballet is like looking at a painting that's been expertly cleaned, framed and imaginatively lit. Her direction not only shows the ballet clearly, unobscured by embellishments or sloppiness, but often gently exposes details and nuances that have disappeared elsewhere. The program she directed last night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater--"Suzanne Farrell Stages the Masters of 20th Century Ballet"--is the third the former New York City Ballet ballerina has presented in Washington. While on previous occasions she worked with the Washington Ballet, this time Farrell is on her own, and has collected a group of dancers from a variety of backgrounds (only two have danced with the New York City Ballet) and turned them into a company in exactly three weeks. There were some technical glitches and opening night tentativeness, but on the whole it was a superb evening and the opening "Divertimento No. 15" was as good as it gets.

In "Divertimento," the dancers are costumed as ballerinas (here in lavender tutus) and their courtiers. This is no earthly court, however, but perhaps one in dancers' Heaven, where every partner is considerate and no one ever falls. It's a purely classical ballet, in Balanchine's neoclassical style: light, almost giggly in some of the women's solos, but with a bravura dash, speed and a touch of wit in others. And always, always musical, complementing the lovely Mozart score.

The dancing was simply sublime and the dancers (Bonnie Pickard, Kristen Gallagher, Veronica Lynn, Natalia Magnicaballi, Kyra Strasberg, Philip Neal, Ben Huys and Eric Lindemer) looked as though they'd been dancing Balanchine all their lives. It was such a beautifully modulated ensemble performance that it seems almost unfair to single anyone out, but Pickard's opening solo was so deft and confident that she set the tone for the evening.

Farrell was best known for her interpretation of Balanchine, and her work as a stager has, until now, been devoted to his ballets. For this program, however, she has included works by the other two important choreographers in her life, Jerome Robbins and Maurice Bejart.

"Afternoon of a Faun," Robbins's ballet about two young dancers who experiment with steps and budding passions in a dance studio but are more interested in their own reflections in the mirror, was danced very poignantly, and very well, by Lynn and Huys. I had never seen the "Scene d'Amour" from Bejart's "Romeo and Juliet" before (to the Berlioz music, not Prokofiev) and had expected it to be wilder, as Bejart has a reputation for being sexy and a bit outre. Christina Fagundes and Philip Neal were certainly loving, but the ballet seemed tame.

The program closed with another Balanchine ballet, his landmark "Apollo," 71 years old and modern still. Despite Huys's powerful, masculine and very musical portrayal of the young god, and a superbly detailed birth scene, this was the program's one disappointment. An obstinate tape and technical troubles on the part of two soloists added unwanted tension, and Fagundes didn't quite have the confidence and radiance for Terpsichore. Remembering Farrell's first Kennedy Center program fouryears ago, when performances went from very good on opening night to transcendental by week's end, however, I'd bet "Apollo" will be in fine shape in a few days.

With no orchestra, no sets and no company to support her, Farrell has accomplished in three weeks more than most artistic directors do in three years. This was a Kennedy Center Millennium Project, and a better present to ballet is hard to imagine.

The company alternates two programs at the Terrace through Sunday afternoon. It then will begin a tour of several East Coast cities, ending at New York City's New Victory Theatre in November.




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