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GQ Ballroom Takes in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in George Balanchine’s “Gounod Symphony” – photo by and courtesy of Damien Johnson


Let me tell you, while this outdoor-loving-girl-turned-ballroom- and theater-arts dancer had the good fortune to spend the better part of her childhood only miles from Yellowstone National Park, I am also a huge fan of the arts and am grateful now to be living in the DC metropolitan area, where there is so much easy access to high culture. Moreover, it is just a hop, skip, and jump to Philadelphia and New York City to attend cultural events in those beautiful cities as well, and I have frequently done just that, for instance, to watch the American Ballet Theatre, particularly when my favorite active ballerina, Alina Cojocaru, has been in town.

When I first came to the DC area, I was excited to hear that Suzanne Farrell, Balanchine’s iconic muse, had her own company based out of the Kennedy Center. That is because, although living in rural Wyoming as a child pretty much precluded my catching the New York City Ballet, while she was still dancing there, it didn’t stop me from looking at pictures and dreaming and reading everything that I could about her and the other great dancers of her generation. 

In spite of that, however, with so many cultural goings-on from which to choose, I found myself prioritizing the opportunities that I thought might be once-in-a-lifetime, and I, sadly, hadn’t yet managed to attend any events with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet; so imagine my shock when I heard, in the fall of 2017, that this would be the last season, with final performances through December 9. I alerted Johnathan Bowers, the director of GQBallroom.com, and he said, “We have to go see them.” That is how all of us on the GQ Ballroom Theater Arts Team, ended up braving the icy roads to the Kennedy Center in order to catch the Forever Balanchine: Farewell Performances, on a snowy Saturday evening in December. 

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in rehearsal with Suzanne Farrell – photo by and courtesy of Damien Johnson


Although I am normally a big sucker for the romantic or tragic stories of full-length, traditional, classical ballets like Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, this performance cemented for me that there is something to be said for the shorter works of Balanchine, which seem to be impressionistic in nature, where the choreography is more centered on depicting the emotion and the tempo of the music. It leaves the exact story up to the audience to decide, but every movement fits the music so precisely, that, as a dancer who is always making up choreography in my head, it leaves me feeling like I wouldn’t have choreographed it any differently. Even though the concept feels more interpretive, the movements remain generally classical in nature, with clean lines and technique, and there is no hint of a resemblance to many recent incarnations I have seen of interpretive dance, where the ubiquitous dramatic rolls and falls to the ground have almost transformed some examples of that genre into a caricature.

The evening’s program consisted of Gounod Symphony, Tzigane, Meditation, and Serenade, and while I would really have loved to see the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, the pieces that were chosen worked really well together. Gounod Symphony was beautiful, and Tzigane perfectly conjured up visions of Roma dancers. Being Theater Arts dancers, though, we from GQ Ballroom all agreed that our favorite pieces were Meditation and Serenade, because we are all about pairing, and the romantic pas de deux elements, especially, spoke to us. They made the story more palpable, and we felt like we could relate to them, since the short format of the Theater Arts category of Ballroom Dance, similarly, does not allow for the type of story you see in a full-length ballet, and means that our dancing is, rather, inspired by the music. But beyond that, because we have classical training, we like to incorporate it in all of our Ballroom Dancing, including our Latin and Standard and Smooth and Rhythm.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Balanchine’s “Serenade” – photo by and courtesy of Damien Johnson


The ultimate highlight of the evening, though, was during the curtain call, when the lady herself came out on stage for a bow. As they say, seeing Suzanne Farrell there, in real life, gave us “all the feels”, and we can attest that there was hardly a dry eye in the Kennedy Center Opera House. She is clearly adored, by her company members and audiences, alike, and even though we refrained from taking pictures of that moment, out of respect, it left an indelible image in our memories, that we will carry with us forever. We are truly grateful to have experienced it.

The beloved Suzanne Farrell with Suzanne Farrell Ballet company members Zachary Guthier and Damien Johnson – photo by Xiaoxiao Cao and courtesy of Damien Johnson