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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On Our Busy Fall Season
Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
By the time you read this, my company and I will be tulle-deep in rehearsals for our October 30–November 1 performances in the Opera House, which officially open the Kennedy Center's ballet season. We have a lot of ground to cover—from beginning work on the ballets in late September at the Kennedy Center, to heading down to Florida State University in Tallahassee for rehearsals with the full company, to heading back to D.C. for costume fittings and the flurry of final tech week before opening.
Wherever you may find us, I'm truly excited for our fall program, which includes two audience favorites that I've chosen to help mark the 400th anniversary season of William Shakespeare's passing. I invite you to read my past Notes from the Ballet on the scène d'amour from Maurice Béjart's Romeo and Juliet and the Act II pas de deux from Mr. B's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which my company premiered in 2007 and 2010, respectively. They are completely opposite ballets on the subject of love—Midsummer is harmonious love, while Romeo is tragic love.
Violeta Angelova and Kirk Henning in Romeo and Juliet, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will also be folding two additional Mr. B classics into our repertoire with this new program. One of them is Walpurgisnacht Ballet, which I elaborate on further below. The other is Emeralds, which I've written about in previous Notes. Though Emeralds is always the first ballet to be performed when it's staged as part of Jewels (followed by Rubies then Diamonds), my company will close each of our performances with it. So it will be fascinating to give Emeralds somewhat of a “twist” in perspective and mood with this reversal. It's kind of like having the delicious appetizer at the end of your meal!
It also makes for a vibrantly colorful program, with Emeralds in radiant green, Midsummer in dreamy pink, Romeo in classic white, and Walpurgisnacht Ballet in a parade of purple. And even though we feature nearly all French composers, it's a wide-ranging music program—with the tragic drama of Berlioz, the captivating power of Gounod, the moving strains of Fauré, and the exquisite violin of Mendelssohn.
Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook in Emeralds, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
If you're curious to get a sneak peek before we open in the Opera House, my company will perform short excerpts from three of them in a free Millennium Stage performance on October 15, along with two divertissements from Mr. B's Don Quixote, in celebration of that milestone ballet's 50th anniversary. Plus, on October 19, one of my company's principals will give a Master Class related to the program as part of the Kennedy Center's Explore the Arts series. And on November 7, I'll be offering the master class Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell FOR ADULTS, inspired by the program I direct each summer for young dancers in training.
Along with some new and returning faces—including one of our principal dancers who is back from having a baby, the return of two company members who recently married each other, and several new apprentices joining our ranks—it's a very full season ahead. I hope you'll join us for every second of it!
On Balanchine's Walpurgisnacht Ballet
Violeta Angelova, Kirk Henning, and Melanie Riffee in Walpurgisnacht Ballet, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Mr. B's Walpurgisnacht Ballet is a rarely performed treat that features choreography he originally created much earlier in his career for various productions of Charles Gounod's opera Faust, based on Goethe's tragic play about a struggling scholar's pact with the devil. (Interestingly enough, I recently discovered I'm related to Goethe on my mother's side!) With its bewitching aura, this ballet is a great addition to our autumn program—even more so, since it coincidentally falls over Halloween weekend.
For a School of American Ballet gala in 1980, Mr. B premiered the dancing from Gounod's opera as an independent work featuring Adam Lüders and me as the principal couple, plus a demi-soloist and 22 female corps members. He had intended the performance to be a pièce d'occasion only for the gala, but audiences loved it so much that he quickly added it to City Ballet's repertoire. Adam and I frequently performed it for many years afterward—and for quite some time, I've been seeking the perfect opportunity to add it to my company's repertoire.
Instead of explicitly following the story of Faust, Walpurgisnacht Ballet is more evocative of the joyful revelry from the opera's final act, which depicts a traditional folk celebration on the eve of May Day. There are delightful waltzes and other dances for the ensemble women and demi-soloist, a pas de deux for the central couple (somewhat unique in that it also incorporates eight corps members), and two variations for the lead ballerina, all before the ballet culminates with the entire cast on stage. And this is where things take an unexpected turn.
From Dance Magazine, June 1985: Suzanne Farrell and Adam Lüders in Walpurgisnacht Ballet, photo by Steven Caras
As Gounod's music becomes more urgent and intense, the atmosphere is suddenly wild and raucous, barreling toward a spectacular finale flourish. I'm eager to see how it all plays out in the grand expanse of the Opera House!
Reflecting back on those 1980 gala rehearsals, I remember several new ideas sprung forth that weren't in the opera. For example, I added a few arm movements to the pas de deux, including instances where I briefly but elegantly “hide,” then reveal, my face. Also, the music's first variation was originally composed as a male variation, but Mr. B choreographed it for me instead. Of course, once Walpurgisnacht Ballet was added to the repertoire, all of these elements became permanent parts of the work.
The costumes, on the other hand, changed as soon as the second performance came around. For the gala, they were economically and informally pulled together from what the company already had in storage: eight blue costumes, eight yellow ones, white for me and Adam, pink for the demi-soloist, and lots of odds and ends. Several of these costumes, in fact, came from the original presentations of Allegro Brillante and Ballet Imperial (Piano Concerto No. 2)—they were readily available since Mr. B had re-costumed those ballets. So for one night only, Walpurgisnacht Ballet was a kaleidoscope of colors, before it was re-costumed in shades of purple, with the central couple remaining in white—just like the photo of me and Adam at right, originally printed in Dance Magazine 30 years ago. In 2015, I'm excited to present to you a completely new production for The Suzanne Farrell Ballet!