Suzanne Farrell Ballet

October 27, 2011

Joyce Theater
October 19–23, 2011

Performance reviewed: Oct. 19

To be known as a great artist’s muse is a rare gift, but with time it can weigh heavily, burdened by impractically high expectations. Suzanne Farrell famously inspired George Balanchine, and since retiring from the stage, she has been dedicated to restaging his work, primarily with her company, based in Washington, DC. The decade-old Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed four Balanchine works recently in New York, showing some flair alongside some weaknesses that in part stem from those expectations.

The infrequently performed Haieff Divertimento (1947) takes its name from composer Alexei Haieff. Five couples clad in seafoam green performed the crisply structured, short ballet, in Balanchine’s hyperclassical “royal” style, leading off with curtsies and bows to one another. The multiple duets feature oddities, such as when a woman on pointe, facing her supporting partner, repeatedly scoops the air behind her with one foot—a pawing motion—then opens and clenches her hands. Elizabeth Holowchuk and Kirk Henning, the lead couple, performed admirably and with brightness.

This ballet, however, and the “Diamonds” pas de deux from Jewels (1967), performed by Violeta Angelova and Momchil Mladenov, suffered from being so close to the audience. Apparently, those extra 30 feet in a larger theater serve as a filter for the dancers’ tension, shaking, and artificial sentiment, which all read loud and clear at the Joyce in these two works. Angelova made some notable technical lapses in “Diamonds,” including a fall out of a pirouette that came across as either injury, or worse, carelessness, and her arms sagged out of position at times.

(1963), a duet and the first work Balanchine made for Farrell, was more successful in its close proximity. Danced by Holowchuk (who, with her flowing hair, resembled Farrell) and Michael Cook to Tchaikovsky, the ballet emphasized a looser style, as it explored the underlying psychological drama of a man being briefly revisited by a lover.


The company seemed far more confident in Agon (1957): Partnered turns were clean, and the modernist, articulated poses read like sculptures. The stage was still too close, and the recorded music merely paralleled the dance; live orchestration would have created a more integrated whole. But this admirably danced work spoke to the potential Farrell can reach if given the right circumstances.

Photo: Elisabeth Holowchuk and Kirk Henning in
Haieff Divertimento. By Carol Pratt, courtesy Joyce.