Ballet by Balanchine

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet brings a unique, Balanchine-themed dance experience to Northrop.

by Laini Devin

Suzanne Farrell had a close relationship with choreographer George Balanchine. After his death, she sought out some of his rare works to build a unique repertoire.

Balanchine, a St. Petersburg native who died more than three decades ago, was one of the most prolific contemporary ballet choreographers during the 20th century.

Farrell, now the artistic director for the Suzanne Farrell Ballet company, was one of Balanchine’s most prodigious muses. She joined Balanchine’s company in 1961 and has since endeavored to preserve his opuses.

A master class Farrell led in 1993 laid the foundation for the creation of her company.

“Over time, the modest project grew into a national, three-week intensive — Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell,” Farrell said.

The fully-fledged company took off in 2000 in collaboration with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“In 2001, I began this process by re-working ‘Variations for Orchestra,’ a solo that [Balanchine] originally made for me in 1967,” Farrell said.

Her company continues to perform other works that Farrell debuted in her days as a performing dancer under Balanchine’s direction.

Dancer Elisabeth Holowchuk performed with Farrell’s company for 14 years. During her time, she’s made her way through its ranks and was eventually promoted to first soloist — a prestigious honor within a ballet company.

The performances of “Swan Lake” and “Allegro Brillante” that are part of the company’s current tour are set to music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. “The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody)” features music by Frédéric Chopin.

Music is the driving force behind Balanchine’s choreography; dancers focus on how the music tells them to move.

They perform in tandem with a live orchestra, which Holowchuk said is a challenging feat.

“A piece of music will always be the way the composer intended it; the notes will never change,” Farrell said, “but choreography is subjected to many variables.”

While the orchestra’s musicians rely on their instruments to assist the pieces, the dancers exhibit their own form of musicality.

“Dancers don’t use anything other than who they are, in the sense that they are not machines where the volume can be turned up,” Farrell said.

Dancers’ bodies are their instruments, Holowchuk said.

“We have to do it all visually and energetically. We are our own technology, our own instruments,” Farrell said.

In case of any technological mishaps, the company values each moment spent rehearsing.

“When we get to our destination, we spend extra rehearsal time spacing our production to the new theater,” Holowchuk said.

The level of a rehearsal’s productivity — determined by its poetry and vitality — depends on how dancers and choreographers work together, Farrell said.

 “We have short rehearsal periods, so I need dancers who can learn quickly. I also look for team-oriented people,” she said.

Despite the rigorous touring schedule, the company sometimes takes a day off to explore the city it’s in, Holowchuk said.

But Holowchuk and the company’s dancers don’t seem to mind Farrell’s intense rehearsal process.

And because of their diligent work, Blanchine’s ballets remain in high esteem.

“Dance is unique from other art forms in the way it can live on,” Farrell said. “If Balanchine ballets retain his integrity [and] his musicality, the right environment will hold them together.”


What: The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Northrop Auditorium, Carlson Family Stage

Cost: $44-$74