Art and industry: Suzanne Farrell reclaims Balanchine

From left: Andrew Shore Kaminski, Violeta Angelova and Ian Grosh perform “Agon.” The Suzanne Farrell Ballet appears at the Joyce through Sunday.

A 30-year career as a path-breaking ballerina is a hard act to follow, but Suzanne Farrell has carved out a worthy second act. Her own ensemble, based at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., dedicates itself primarily to the work of George Balanchine, whose muse she was for decades.

Making its Joyce debut in four Balanchine pieces, the troupe reveals many sides of the great choreographer. The program opens with “Haieff Divertimento,” a rarely seen 1947 work that Farrell reconstructed. Some of her dancers look very young; Violeta Angelova, an experienced European performer, swims in an enormous tutu during a pas de deux from “Diamonds,” partnered by Bulgarian Momchil Mladenov, the company’s senior male.

One longs for the live music that’s a hallmark of first-string Balanchine; here we make do with recordings. “Meditation,” a startling 1963 duet to Tchaikovsky, communicates the passion Balanchine had for Farrell.  The excellent Elisabeth Holowchuk channels the wild, free spirit of the young Farrell.
Michael Cook seems to mourn her even as she’s in his arms, pleading with her as she dances away.

The company does well by the 1957 “Agon,” a Balanchine touchstone that strips the ballet vocabulary to pure line in response to Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking score. In the rendering at the intimate Joyce there were echoes of the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause,” which the choreographer, who loved American movies, undoubtedly knew. While the ballet’s angular, splayed positions are as abstract and industrial as anything Balanchine made, the performers seem filled with the passion and frustration of mid-century teenagers, hitting their marks while longing to break free.


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