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Suzanne Farrell Ballet

By Kate Mattingly

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
The Kennedy  Center
Washington, DC
March 3–7, 2010
Reviewed by Kate Mattingly

 

Natalia Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov in Agon. Photo by Paul Kolnick, Courtesy Kennedy Center.

 

Six months ago, when The Suzanne Farrell Ballet presented a free performance at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, the dancers appeared new to the choreography and strangers to one another. By March they imbued a program of works by Balanchine and Robbins with vitality and excitement. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra played live music, although the program took place in the Eisenhower Theater. Smaller than the Opera House, the Eisenhower stage complemented the size of the company: 22 dancers, 10 of whom joined this season.


It is a testament to Farrell’s direction that such a total transformation occurred in a half-year. A sense of contest permeated Agon as dancers examined their boundaries and abilities. They were not overwhelmed by the choreography but working to achieve its best execution. Their performance exposed the idea that challenges can push us to tap into unknown sources of power and resilience.


Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations opened the program, performed playfully and with ebullience. The corps of men—Kirk Henning, Matthew Renko, and Danny Scott—was buoyant. This mood shifted to a contemplative dreamscape for Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. Elisabeth Holowchuk and Henning were stunning, exploring their environment, their own facility, their impact on one another. When Henning arched his back in the opening moments, the negative space between his body and the floor echoed the windows in the ballet’s set (by Jean Rosenthal). The dancers were at once elements in this abstract composition and deeply human characters discovering sensations of movement and touch.


The Act II pas de deux from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook, was languid and mature. It ended with Magnicaballi draping her torso over Cook’s arm like wax melting down a candle. Her body’s suppleness and the clarity of their dancing made the duet a sweet interlude before the forceful finale: Agon.


Beginning and ending with four men in a row, standing with their backs to the audience, the ballet offers a glimpse of human interaction. Trios, duets, and group sections fill the middle of the piece, the visual equivalence of Stravinsky’s music. Physical predicaments emerge and are resolved. In Farrell’s staging, perhaps because the company does not rehearse together year-round and they are not as familiar with the repertory, these moments of testing were exciting. Instead of sleek shapes, a spirit of persistence shines through the choreography.