Tonight the University Musical Society continues the celebration of what would have been renowned choreographer George Balanchine’s 100th birthday. A selection of four works performed by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet highlights the unique range of musicality and movement within Balanchine’s choreography.
In 1999, Suzanne Farrell assembled a small company of esteemed dancers to perform works of the masters of 20th-century ballet. Since that time, the ensemble has become a full-fledged company complete with 24 dancers and a national tour. Her long history with the New York City Ballet, along with her intimate relationship with Balanchine, make her an ideal candidate for the reconstruction of his most beloved pieces. As company dancer Bonnie Packard said, “Farrell passes on the etiquette of ballet history yet respects the personal evolution of dance.”
“Mozartiana” will open the performance and introduce Balanchine’s lightheartedness and love of story ballets. The lively score coupled with delightful peasant costumes make this piece playful and energetic. Choreographed for the 1981 Tchaikovsky Festival in New York City, “Mozartiana” was one of the last ballets Balanchine created before his death in April 1983.
The performance continues with “Tempo di Valse,” an excerpt from Balanchine’s distinctive portrayal of “The Nutcracker.” More commonly known as the “Waltz of the Flowers,” the piece is filled with billowing movement and bright costumes. Composed of a large ensemble of female dancers, the excerpt represents the grandeur of the corps de ballet. Company member Bonnie Pickard said, “The musicality of Balanchine’s choreography is amazing. The logic makes sense to the body. It’s a great experience.”
Balanchine’s gravitation toward the masters of classical music continues with “The Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.” A compelling duet from Act III of “Swan Lake,” this piece highlights the choreographer’s affinity for risk and surprise. The two dancers move in unexpected ways, through challenging lifts and combinations that span the entire width of the stage. Pickard notes, “To do these ballets is a gift. It enriches your life.”
Balanchine’s constant search for the spectacular was coupled with a spirit of spontaneity. This is evident in the performance’s closing piece, “Serenade,” a ballet that was drawn from an impromptu class on stage technique held in 1934. Dancers begin in “first position” with an outstretched arm. Their eyes project outward and exude a confirmed and chilling presence. When an additional dancer suddenly enters the stage, audience members often infer a dramatic storyline that fits the somber music and dramatic ice-blue costumes. However, in reality, the single dancer is a scatter-brained young girl who has arrived late to Balanchine’s 1934 staging rehearsal.
Balanchine relished in the unexpected, which made life difficult on dancers as well as historians who have tried to explain the intent behind his choreography. However, one particular dancer, Suzanne Farrell, has an in-depth understanding of the man behind the choreography.
A two-day Balanchine symposium “From the Mariinksy to Manhattan: George Balanchine and the Transformation of American Dance” will be held today from 8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m. at Rackham Auditorium. For a complete schedule, visit www.umich.edu/~stpetersburg. Admission is free.