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Suzanne Farrell Ballet

'Haieff Divertimento', 'Diamonds PdD', 'Meditation', 'Agon'

by Colleen Boresta

October 23(m), 2011 -- Joyce Theatre, New York, NY

Suzanne Farrell is considered by many dance critics and balletomanes to be the last of George Balanchine’s great muses. Since her retirement from New York City Ballet in 1989, Farrell has staged Balanchine ballets all over the world. For the past ten years, she has been artistic director of her own ballet company, which performs annually at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet has over 50 ballets in their repertoire, including works by Farrell’s mentors, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Maurice Bejart. Farrell’s company has received great acclaim for reviving many Balanchine ballets which have not been seen in years.

One of these works is Haieff Divertimento, which was choreographed by Balanchine in 1947, but has not been seen on a New York stage since New York City Ballet revived it during their 1993-94 season. The music, composed by Alexei Haieff, is extremely melodic. The choreography is both innovative and inventive, containing Balanchine movements not seen in his later works (a rarity for Balanchine, who had a tendency to copy from himself). The most memorable of these steps is found in Haieff’s pas de deux. The leading ballerina repeatedly moves her leg behind her in a very cat-like way. Another lovely movement occurs when the leading couple reach out to each other again and again with splayed hands. This shows one of Balanchine’s constant
themes – the inability of man and woman to stay connected. Seeing this concept executed in such an unusual way is one of the things which makes Haieff Divertimento such a little jewel of a ballet.

As the leading ballerina in Haieff Divertimento, Courtney Anderson is a graceful performer with fine footwork. Her partner, Kirk Henning, stands out for his attentive partnering and the easy, natural flow of his dancing. I really wish Henning’s part in Haieff was longer. The female corps dancers are a disappointment, with footwork lacking both crispness and precision. Three of the four male ensemble dancers are little better. Their leaps lack height and their landings are too heavy. The fourth male corps member, Andrew Shore Kaminski, shows tremendous promise, standing out for his charismatically elegant expansiveness.

The next section of the program was devoted to two Balanchine pas de deux. The first of these was the pas de deux from Diamonds, Balanchine’s homage to the imperial Russian ballets of Marius Petipa. This work suffers the most from the tiny Joyce stage and the lack of a live orchestra (Taped music was played). I also wish the entire Diamonds could have been performed, but there’s no way even half of the 32 required dancers would have fit on the Joyce
stage. That being said, Heather Ogden is gloriously radiant in the ballerina role. Michael Cook is a good partner, but he and Ogden lack any real chemistry. Maybe I feel this way remembering the palpable emotion Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard displayed when dancing the Diamonds pas de deux just a few weeks ago.

The second pas de deux, Meditation, is my favorite ballet of the afternoon. Both Tchaikovsky’s music and Balanchine’s choreography enhance perfectly the dreamlike quality of this work. Elizabeth Holowchuk as the elusive lover and Momchil Mladenov as the man she finally leaves are hauntingly beautiful. Mladenov’s performance is especially moving. His dancing draws the audience totally into his inner world of loss and longing.

The final ballet of the program, Agon, works well on the small Joyce stage. It is good to see the dancers perform Balanchine’s abstract masterpiece at such close range. To be honest, however, Agon is a ballet I admire tremendously but it doesn’t touch me emotionally. All the dancers show the competitive push and pull of the choreography to its best advantage. The central pas de deux, though, lacks the intensity I felt when I saw New York City Ballet dancers Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans dance the roles. Perhaps that is because Elizabeth Holowchuk’s outstretched leg is too often wobbly.

It was great seeing The Suzanne Farrell Ballet dance Balanchine. In the future I would like to see this company perform at a much larger theater, accompanied by a live orchestra.

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