perfection: Suzanne Farrell Ballet.
Mae G. Banner
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 9
called Suzanne Farrell “My Stradivarius.” Indeed, Farrell
was able to respond with uncanny skill to the master’s choreographic
touch. New dances poured out of him, made for her. She made
the ideal real.
Eased out—some say pushed out—of New York City Ballet after
Balanchine died, Farrell started her own Washington, D.C.-based
company in 2000 and began touring with a largely Balanchine
Her troupe of 20 young dancers made their Jacob’s Pillow debut
last week and showed that, especially when it comes to roles
that Balanchine made for Farrell, the legacy survives. If
Farrell is channeling Balanchine, her best female dancers
are now channeling Farrell.
This was clearest in “Contrapuntal Blues pas de deux” from
Clarinade (1964) and Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane
(1975). Both displayed Farrell’s sexy, risk-taking style,
smoothly duplicated by Elisabeth Holowchuk in the slippery
Clarinade that Morton Gould composed for Benny Goodman,
and by Natalia Magnicaballi as the fiery gypsy in Tzigane.
Despite the different tones and tempos of these dances, the
“Farrell-ness” crackles. It’s in the pushed-forward pelvis,
the head in profile while the body faces front, the abandon,
the “yes-no” tease of the woman’s moves as she seems to go
forward while her legs reach backward.
Her slow pirouettes from a wide-stance fourth position are
unbelievable. The backward flings of her hand say “Danger—look
out” to her partner. Even when he lifts her, she seems to
be escaping from his grasp.
In Clarinade, Benjamin Lester did cartwheels behind
Holowchuk, but all eyes were on the woman. In Tzigane,
Magnicaballi whirled in a blaze of gold and red ribbons, pivoted
on two heels, shot a leg out like an arrow, and surged away
from her partner, Runqiao Du, driven by the raw sound of the
fiddle. A partner might present the Farrell woman, but he
can never own her.
Bracketing these two showpieces, the company danced a measured
La Source (1968), all pearly pink, with bright allegro
work by Shannon Parsley, and a cut crystal Divertimento
No. 15 (1956) to Mozart’s sparkling music.
New York City Ballet fans can see Divertimento next
week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It will be expertly
danced, no doubt, but it cannot deliver the kick I got from
seeing it up close at the Pillow. Three men partner five women
(a daring idea, wittily accomplished) in this bit of 18th-century
eye candy. All the courtesies, all the neatly-timed feats,
were danced to perfection.
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 9
A strong desert wind seemed to propel Emanuel Gat and Roy
Assaf in their stern, muscular duet, Winter Voyage
(2004) danced to songs from Schubert’s yearning Winterreise.
To sound and silence, the two tall men ran, squatted wide-legged,
rose, twisted and fell, raised their fists, lunged, passed
each other with no acknowledgement, and came directly head
to head with no human connection.
This dance of two heroes—two enemies? two brothers? one split
soul?—was intense, even mesmerizing. In one extenuated passage,
the men bent from the waist, letting their bare arms hang
before them, slowly allowing gravity to pull their bodies
downward until their hands scraped the floor.
Voyage’s sudden shifts between song and silence, between
slow unfoldings and swift, heavy-footed runs, were followed
by the nearly non-stop braidings and churnings of The Rite
of Spring (2004) in which Gat illuminated Stravinsky’s
broken meters through a slinky five-partner salsa. The three
women, Avital Mano, Doron Raz, and Alex Shmurak, all in strappy
black dance dresses, swerved from man to man as Gat and Assaf
swiveled from one to another, keeping a salsa beat that fit
Stravinsky like a satin glove.
Voyage was danced in long gray tunics, slit to the thigh,
that vaguely suggested desert robes, or Chassidic frock coats.
In high contrast to that sobriety, The Rite of Spring
was mostly danced on a red rug at center stage and lit by
hellish red light that made the dancers’ bodies glow like
demons. Party-goers at an end-of-the-world cafe, they turned
and twined, bringing my heart to my throat until they sank
to the floor, leaving one woman to step through their inert
bodies. Finally, surprisingly, the four got up and exited,
leaving the lone woman, inert, as the ultimate sacrifice.
Gat founded his company of four Sabras (Israel-born) and one
Ukrainian immigrant in 2004. Based in Tel Aviv, the group
made their Pillow debut last week and will perform the same
program this week at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York
Would I see their dances in the same way if I didn’t know
the dancers are Israeli? It’s impossible to say. Given the
constant dangers of life in the Middle East, it’s hard not
to interpret Gat’s moves as suggesting combat, the respect
between adversaries, or the “tomorrow we die” mania of the
salsa in The Rite of Spring.
Gat, with help from the local government, is building a choreographic
center in the kibbutz Kiryat Gat in the Negev Desert, to be
completed in 2010. I wish him success.