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Cut-crystal perfection: Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

The Genuine Article


By Mae G. Banner

Suzanne Farrell Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 9

Balanchine 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 repertory.

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.

Like Warriors

Emanuel Gat Dance

Jacob’s 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.

Winter 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.

Winter 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 City.

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.

—Mae G. Banner

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