Suzanne Farrell's Notes from the Ballet
Dear ballet lovers -
Here you will find my ongoing thoughts and observations on ballet performances taking place at the Kennedy Center. I hope you enjoy them!
Artistic Advisor for Kennedy Center Ballet and Artistic Director of the Kennedy Center's own ballet company, The Suzanne Farrell BalletFull Bio
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The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
On Paul Mejia's Romeo and Juliet
Program A: Nov. 6, 7, & 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m.
Paul Mejia originally choreographed this lovely 25-minute ballet in 1977, when he was artistic director of Ballet Guatemala. Later, when he was co-artistic director of Chicago City Ballet with Maria Tallchief, I joined the company's European tour in 1983 and performed Romeo and Juliet opposite Adam Lüders at several outdoor festivals, from Rome, Naples, and Ravenna to Tunis, Lyon, and Milan. It's a beautiful rendition of Shakespeare's tale in condensed form, choreographed to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture. Having grown up with Tchaikovsky's music, I felt very much at home in the ballet.
This engagement marks my company's first performances of the work, and my second staging of one of his ballets; the first was Eight by Adler. It's also our way of celebrating the 450th year since Shakespeare's birth, and one of three works on this November's programs danced to Tchaikovsky's music.
I have danced two different versions of Romeo and Juliet to two different composers: Paul's set to Tchaikovsky, and Maurice Béjart's set to Berlioz. With the Tchaikovsky version, you don't have three hours to develop your character and rely on the story. You have to jump right in. This approach gives new challenges to the audience and the opportunity to experience the tale of Romeo and Juliet in a concise format. Seeing what it's like as an opera or a play or in a different dance presentation calls attention to new facets of the story each time, showing how it can be just as powerful regardless of the medium.
Here, there are no props—Romeo, for example, takes his poison using movement alone. There's plenty of drama and the action unfolds in a more abstract way through dance. This version opens toward the end of the story, in the crypt, where Juliet is already presumably dead and Romeo is surrounded by an ensemble of dancers dressed in black. (Romeo and Juliet are clothed as innocents in white. This color contrast, along with the absence of traditional narrative, is very Balanchinian.)
From my perspective, the ensemble doesn't necessarily represent Montagues or Capulets, but rather the dark forces, those obstacles that keep people apart in life. These dancers step into and out of the action, morphing into different roles along the way.
From the crypt, Romeo and Juliet's doomed relationship is revealed in flashback, from when they first meet to Romeo's conflict with Tybalt, one of the dark forces. Tybalt's death, staged symbolically through dance, is the catalyst for the lovers' downfall. Though Shakespeare's story is a tragedy, this version culminates in an inspiring and moving final tableau, which I won't give away here. I hope you enjoy this unique interpretation as much as I first loved dancing it, and as much as I've delighted in staging it for you now.
On Balanchine's Tempo di Valse
Program B: Nov. 8 & 10 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Tempo di Valse is Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers" music extracted from Balanchine's full-evening 1954 version of The Nutcracker and without the flower costumes. It was first staged as an independent ballet in 1981, on a tribute program during Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Festival that also included, among others excerpts, the composer's "Garland Dance" from The Sleeping Beauty and the waltz from Eugene Onegin.
I think it's a real treat for audiences to experience this beautifully structured choreography for 15 female dancers in its purest form, at a time other than the holidays. With the story removed, you hear the music and see the movement differently, no matter how many times you've made Nutcracker part of your winter-time festivities.
When I was with Balanchine's company, we'd perform The Nutcracker 40 to 50 times over the holiday season. I remember one year I was scheduled to dance an evening performance but not the matinee. I was lying on a cot in my dressing room, and the music was being piped in from the stage. In the stillness, shut off from the bombardment of all things Christmas, I too heard the music differently, catching nuances I had never noticed before.
My company hasn't performed Tempo di Valse in a decade, since I staged it for the Kennedy Center's own Tchaikovsky Festival in the fall of 2003. The choreography has such wonderful, complex patterns. The ballerina and two demi-soloists come and go, but the corps remains on stage the entire time. For these performances, the women will be dressed in pink and white chiffon. There's no "Dewdrop" and no flowers—just magnificent dance!
On Balanchine's Pas de Dix
Program B: Nov. 8 & 10 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
My company's premiere performances of this ballet are a tribute to my good friend Maria Tallchief, who passed away in April of this year. Balanchine made Pas de Dix on Maria and André Eglevsky in 1955, and the ballet became one of the hallmarks of her career. She was such a great lady, a larger-than-life personage and staunch Balanchine disciple.
Because of our mutual devotion to Balanchine's work, our lives frequently intertwined starting in the late 1970s. For example, while Paul Mejia was co-artistic director of Chicago City Ballet, the company she founded, Maria and her husband Buzz would invite us over for dinner and animated discussions at their house. She also visited me on my private island in upstate New York a couple of times (see photos). And in later years, we tended to gravitate to each other at the Kennedy Center Honors. I will miss her strong convictions and spirit.
Pas de Dix features four ensemble couples and a lead couple, hence the "dix" or ten in the title. Two of the corps women dance individual variations, and the other two perform a duet at one point. The lead couple dances a stylish pas de deux interspersed among the four ensemble couples as well as their own bravura solos, concluding with a dazzling finale.
The music, which is very lush and rich, comes from Marius Petipa's 1898 Raymonda, danced to a score by Alexander Glazounov. It has a nice mix of slow passages and grand moments. Audiences familiar with Russian music will recognize its infectious Hungarian folk flavor.
Balanchine was clearly very fond of Raymonda after dancing it as a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music. He went on to choreograph the full-length ballet for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, as well as three ballets for his own company: Raymonda Variations using music primarily from the first act, and Cortège Hongrois and Pas de Dix using music primarily from the third and final act.
Though I never saw Maria dance this role, and I never danced it myself, I did see a live performance of it at one point, and I remember the principals were wearing white with gold trim. Our palate will be a variation on that. All the women are dressed in tutus, giving the ballet a very regal effect. And there will be a hint of a set to evoke the majesty of the ballroom. With Pas de Dix, I'm honored to salute the memory of Maria and Balanchine.