Suzanne Farrell Ballet

'Divertimento No. 15,' 'Variations for Orchestra,' 'Tzigane,' 'Apollo'

by Andre Yew

November 7, 2003 -- Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles

Balanchine infamously claimed that he did not want his ballets preserved for all of posterity, saying that they are creations and existences of their moment. Whatever he might have really believed, Friday's performance of his "Divertimento No. 15," "Variations for Orchestra," "Tzigane," and especially the full-length "Apollo" showed that his ballets' dramatic and emotional reach stretches unimpeded over time. Is it something intrinsic in the steps, or is it the care and intimate knowledge and experience Suzanne Farrell brings to them?

The evening started with the eponymous "Divertimento No. 15," set to music by Mozart. It's one of those Balanchine ballets that seems to be a distillation of a Petipa ballet with all the story stripped out and only the pretty dancing bits left over. Though somewhat technically ragged (the corps and arms and shoulders were not as precise as could be), the dancers danced with enthusiasm and energy projecting the structure and flow of the work clearly. Partnering was especially solid.

After an intermission came the amazingly creepy "Variations for Orchestra," set to post-tonal, serialistic Stravinsky -- nominally a solo piece, until a lighting effect decides to take matters into her own hands. Bonnie Pickard danced her difficult part with technical confidence, but perhaps without the last degree of throwaway abandon one saw in Diana Vishneva's "Rubies" two weeks ago. Everything was well-placed and in-control.

If you don't want to know the surprise in this piece, please skip to the next paragraph. The really interesting part of this piece for me was Pickard's uncredited partner. The soloist starts out dancing against a beige screen, until a light behind the screen turns on and creates a shadow of the soloist about 2 to 2.5 times her height, or so we think ...Slowly, I began to notice that the shadow wasn't quite in synchronization with its supposed source, until it becomes obvious that the shadow is being danced by someone else behind the screen (how else could a shadow like that be projected?) when it begins doing its own thing. There seems to be a struggle between the real person and her shadow, as each tries to bend the other to her own will with the shadow winning, and taking the last bow. It's a very imaginative piece or choreography that deserves to be danced far more often --- I found myself thinking over and over, "I didn't know you could do that!"

Following the heavy "Variations for Orchestra" came "Tzigane," a gypsy-based character dance set to music by Ravel. This piece was notable to me for the great chemistry between the two leads, Natalia Magnicaballi and Momchil Mladenov, in a story about a headstrong woman being pursued by an ardent man who ultimately gets her after some effort (and bravura dancing). Both lead dancers projected their characters well, with Magnicaballi showing the steely, tough character of her dance, and both dancers very believably falling for each other.

The full-length "Apollo" came after a second intermission. The main changes are the addition of Apollo's birth scene, and a different ascension to the heavens at the end. Both additions used a tall staircase, whereas the normal Apollo is danced with only a chair and the Muses' instruments. I'm not sure how more effective the full ballet is compared to the abbreviated version. Apollo's birth, with his arms bound in cloth and basically doing a bunny hop found the audience giggling, while the ending ascension scene is a good, but equal, substitute to the normal ending --- both get grandeur of the moment across equally well.

Still, such relatively minor details don't matter when this is the best "Apollo" I have ever seen live or on tape. Ironically Dionysian in character, this Apollo was dramatic, expressive, and anything but cool and level-headed. Peter Boal danced Apollo with great energy and character without descending into affectation. When he was young and stumbling around, he was really young and really clumsy. When he came into his own power, this dancer's dancer drew on his own magnificent, flawless technique to show all of Apollo's power. When dealing with his Muses, Boal projected a unique relationship with each Muse that I've not seen before --- usually everyone else is kind of window-dressing because we all know Terpsichore is the girl he picks. Jennier Fournier danced Calliope, Magnicaballi danced Polyhymnia, and Chan Hon Goh danced Terpsichore, and they infused each role with its own personality and relationship to Apollo.

I hope Suzanne Farrell will stage more Balanchine ballets, as this performance shows that she has valuable, unique, and interesting insights into even the most familiar Balanchine repertoire, and knows how to bring out all of their dramatic potential.

Edited by Jeff.

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