Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts
is kicking off its new season with a ballet performance by a
company run by one of America’s most famous ballet dancers-turned-choreographers,
On Sunday, Oct. 12, Farrell’s Kennedy Center-based dance company will perform a program of works created by her mentor, George Balanchine. This year marks the centennial of the revered choreographer’s birth - he’s often referred to as the father of American ballet - but Farrell, a principal dancer in Balanchine’s company for many years, says that’s not the reason for the all-Mr. B program.
"He was always a force in my life and an incomparable choreographer and a generous man," Farrell told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview from Philadelphia. "I’ve always wanted to show him to the public and dance his ballets; they’re extraordinary. [Suzanne Farrell Ballet has] always done Balanchine. We have also done [Jerome] Robbins in the company’s repertoire and a couple [Maurice] Bejart things. But primarily its Balanchine. Which doesn’t mean there won’t be somebody else in the future, if I see something I like.
"But what could be better than Balanchine? It has nothing to do with the centennial. I’ve always danced Balanchine. I celebrate him every day."
Farrell was an important muse for Balanchine - in fact filmmakers Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson made an Academy Award-nominated documentary about their creative partnership titled "Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse" in 1997. As proof of their fruitful partnership, Farrell says Balanchine created 23 ballets just for her.
"It’s a new position for me to be in as a director of my own company, but not a new world as an interpreter, as a collaborator, as a dancer of Mr. Balanchine. There are other repetiteurs from the [George Balanchine] Trust and they are very fine and some of them were staging his ballets before I did and I give them credit. But none of them worked as closely with Mr. Balanchine as I did.
"Nor did he do 23 ballets for them. So I’m not the only person who stages his ballets, but I come from a different place."
Now the former principal dancer for New York City Ballet is an official repetiteur, or teacher, for the George Balanchine Trust. In other words, seeing a Balanchine dance coached and interpreted by Farrell is as exciting as seeing the work set by Balanchine himself.
Farrell hints that her company’s performances may be even better, because she has the added advantage of being a female choreographer working with female dancers.
"Balanchine didn’t dance, and he wasn’t a woman," explained Farrell. "But now that I’m a woman and I’m teaching these ballets and women are learning them, it becomes a different dynamic, not a problem, just a different dynamic. It’s a benefit, because I’m asking women to move like a woman, not like a woman to move like a man who choreographs.
"At the same time, it’s kind of charming that they want to do it the way I did, but I want to see them do it their way with my help, not my insistence, but my help. I think that’s kind of a first in the way a company is being run with this kind of repertoire. In fact, I know it’s a first, or a uniqueness to my company, I should say."
Among the works on the Oct. 12 program will be Mozart’s Divertimento No. 15, which Suzanne Farrell Ballet performed during its 2000 inaugural performance.
"Mr. Balanchine didn’t choreograph much to Mozart because he felt it didn’t need a physical counterpart, a visual representation," explained Farrell. "But it was so beautiful, the music. And Balanchine loved Mozart, and the properness of the music and the manners of the music and the intelligence of the music, so he made this wonderful ballet
"[At Brooklyn Center] we are showing the heart of the ballet. The heart of every Balanchine ballet is the pas de deux, the dance between the man and the woman. That’s what you’ll see, plus the Theme in Variations section. It’s the real heart and soul of the ballet. It’s just exquisite."
Farrell describes Balanchine’s choreography for this piece of music as "pure classical ballet," which dazzles not because of pyrotechnics, but because of "the fragility of it, which makes it difficult. The quality is exquisitely simple and that makes it complicated - the timing and the sophistication of the ballet."
Her company will also perform Balanchine’s "Variations for Orchestra,’ with music by Igor Stravinsky; his "Tzigane," with music by Maurice Ravel; and his "Apollo," to music by Stravinsky.
"Stravinsky was [Balanchine’s] mentor," explained Farrell. "Because Stravinsky’s music is not the kind of music one would put on the recorder to listen to, Balanchine wanted Stravinsky’s music to be heard by as many people as possible. And that I believe is one of the motivations for why Balanchine choreographed so much to Stravinsky. And of course Stravinsky wrote pieces of music for him ... They had a longtime history and collaboration."
Among the dancers on the program is Natalia Magnicaballi, who has been a principal dancer with Farrell’s company since 1999.
"I have Natalia Magnicaballi who does a wonderful ’Tzigane.’ That was a part done for me," said Farrell. "I love watching her and I liked the way I did it, but I like the way she does it. So that’s exciting."
Another treat for Balanchine aficionados will be the company’s performance of "Apollo," that is, Balanchine’s original, uncut version featuring New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Peter Boal.
"This is the older version [of ’Apollo’] with the birth scene so even Peter had to relearn this version because it is no longer done in the City Ballet version. This is the version that I prefer and up until ’79 we did. Then Mr. Balanchine decided to take out the birth section and just have it after the muses come in and Apollo is already a full-fledged god. (And I have my reasons for why Mr. Balanchine changed that, but I’m not going to tell you)," she said with a laugh.
"But we are doing the version Mr. Balanchine first choreographed in 1928 and the version that Stravinsky composed for. Ultimately I think it’s the piece Mr. B preferred. And musically it has the score intact and Balanchine rarely tampered with the music.
"I like [this ’Apollo’]. It is the first version I did. I don’t relive my past. I’m very happy in my present and I’m happy to be present in my dancers’ present. But it’s the version I did when I first got in the company. And I think it solidifies the music, it sort of explains the music and why it was written that way. Even in Stravinsky - as it is written - it says ’the handmaidens,’ ’the birth of Apollo,’ the music is there. It’s even in Stravinsky’s directives. So I like that continuity.
"I did it when I was 17 and I did it when I was 37. And I did both versions. And I believe that Balanchine trusted me."
Now that Farrell has donned the mantle of artistic director of her own company, she has additional worries that say a world-renowned principal dancer didn’t have, but she takes it all in - in rather elegant - stride. She is hoping to grow her 34-member company to 40 members; she would also like to lengthen her company’s season to 30 weeks (so the dancers won’t have to take outside employment to support their dancing); and in June 2005, she plans to stage a revival of Balanchine’s "Don Quixote," which hasn’t been done since 1977 ("when I last did it"), said Farrell.
"We do full value and full production ballet and also are mobile enough to tour and go to venues and cities and audiences that might not be able to have ballet because the pieces are too big," said Farrell. "I think that’s wonderful because not everyone can go to major cities. I came from Cincinnatti and I saw ballet once a year. I would have like to have seen more. We’re a perfect example of wanting to bring ballet to everyone. There are hundreds of thousands of little girls in every little town who study ballet and they should see quality ballet."
Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts
presents Suzanne Farrell Ballet at Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman
Theater (one block from the junction of Nostrand and Flatbush
avenues) on Oct. 12 at 2 pm. Tickets are $30. For more information,
call (718) 951-4343 or visit the Web site at www.brookl