Yes, it was good to see the 1947 Haieff Divertimento, last performed here in 1993 as part of a City Ballet Balanchine retrospective, but this is not a major work. Acknowledging that fact—supremely practical and always a genius at recycling; a firm believer in “waste not, want not”—Balanchine cannibalized it in a number of later pieces, most obviously Square Dance: the jaunty youthfulness, the relaxed yet formal courtesy of the dancers to one another. (Even the pale blue costumes are related). The Farrell company presented it respectfully, almost clinically, but could not make a case for it (and its less-than-great score) as more than an historically interesting addition to the Balanchine repertory. It barely survived the cautious, stiff dancing it received.
When it came to the “Diamonds” pas de deux—one of Ms. Farrell’s greatest roles—the results were disastrous. The ballerina I saw, Violeta Angelova, was hopelessly out of her league, with absolutely no amplitude—perhaps the defining Farrell characteristic. She was correct, but correctness isn’t the secret of “Diamonds,” on top of which, although this is a work for only two dancers, it looked cramped at the Joyce. With Balanchine it’s not a question of how many people are on the stage; it’s that his works require air and space.
As for Meditation, the rapt duet Balanchine created for Jacques d’Amboise and Farrell back in 1963, the male partner is meant to be a seasoned man looking back at a girl he’s never forgotten. In this performance he looked less experienced than the young girl he was remembering. Even so, Ms. Farrell’s girl—Courtney Anderson—gave the one thrilling performance of the season. She underlined what was lacking in the rest of the company: large-scale intensity. Agon, which closed the program, got a clean, careful reading, with Michael Cook a standout in the man’s pas de trois; it too, though, looked uncomfortable on the Joyce stage.
Finally, the program itself was unfortunately constructed. The two short pas de deux were book-ended by interminable intermissions—13 or so minutes of dance surrounded by two black holes. We need Suzanne Farrell in New York, but we need her unhampered by a constricted stage and what is essentially a brave but second-level pick-up cast.
What’s the right word for William Forsythe’s I don’t believe in outer space? Awful? Dreadful? Let’s settle for execrable. Mr. Forsythe is dubious enough in his serious mode; when he turns zany (his own word), we’re out of the frying pan and the fire, and into hell. There are round black objects all over the floor of the stage. There’s endless running and shrieking. Also endless gnomic narrative (“As if by chance things are falling on us … as if by chance things are being thrown up”). There’s convulsing and mumbling and snatches of well-known lyrics (“I put a spell on you”; “I will survive”). On it goes, and on and on. It’s dance by assault.
This 2008 work appeared as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival, but it isn’t even New let alone Next; today it’s as corny as Kansas in August. Poor Pina Bausch is prematurely gone from us, but her melody lingers on—though exploited rather than honored. The BAM audience was besotted.