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Posted on Sat, Oct 10, 2009 : 1:44 a.m.

Suzanne Farrell Ballet tours Balanchine's "worlds"

By Susan Isaacs Nisbett

Suzanne Farrell Ballet publicity photo by Jon Nalon 2007.jpg

Suzanne Farrell Ballet publicity photo

Jon Nalon

So different are the ballets that choreographer George Balanchine created that ballerina Suzanne Farrell - his greatest muse and now director of a ballet company that bears her own name but is devoted to his - calls them “worlds.”

Friday night, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet brought three of those “worlds” from New York City Ballet - plus one from the separate universe of Maurice Béjart - to the Power Center stage under University Musical Society auspices.

Created within a space of about 10 years, from the mid-1950s to the mid-’60s, the ballets - Balanchine’s “Agon,” his “Contrapuntal blues pas de deux” from the rarity “Clarinade” and the “Pas d’Action” from his “Divertimento No. 15,” plus the “Scene d’amour” from Béjart’s “Romeo and Juliet” - are indeed wildly different from each other. And each cast the company’s fine dancers in a different light.

In some ways, the ballet least flattering to them was the most classical of the three Balanchine ballets, the “Pas d’Action” from “Divertimento No. 15,” in which the ground for dancing is music of Mozart of the same title. Maybe it’s just that dancing Mozart in this style, even with beautiful costumes (by Holly Hines), leaves the performer just as naked as playing Mozart does: everything shows.

Here, what was in evidence amid the work’s pleasing classical symmetries and gracious and courtly manners was the beautiful schooling of the dancers - neat positions, well-stuck landings among the men, poised balances en pointe for the women - and a certain dry academicism that most did not transcend. There were moments and variations that rose to glory, though: Natalia Magnicaballi made real music in the fourth variation and Violeta Angelova was a quicksilver presence in the sixth and final variation.

But the company let its hair down, literally and figuratively, in the two ballets that followed. The “Contrapuntal Blues pas de deux,” danced here by a perky, pony-tailed Elisabeth Holowchuk and a suave Ted Seymour, is a Best of the Early ’50s sort of dance, with Balanchine, who loved Americana in all forms, enjoying jazz and popular dance excursions to Morton Gould’s “Derivations for Clarinet and Jazz Band.”

Béjart’s “Scene d’amour” from “Romeo and Juliet,” set to Berlioz, gives a sense of the theatrical flair and love of effect that marked this European choreographer, with whom Farrell also worked closely. Sara Ivan and Momchil Mladenov, as the star-crossed lovers, were ravishing, and the choreography was often also ravishing - as was the lighting design by J. Russell Sandifer, which illuminates their tryst with the luminous orb of a giant moon. But while the choreography, the partnering especially, is largely seductive for its emotional veracity, and while the addition of opposing quartets of Capulets and Montagues adds an imaginative depth to the encounter, moments of acrobatic excess intrude and, alas, make us pull back.

The “story,” however, is quite different with “Agon,” one among many of Balanchine’s masterpieces, and a piece as quirkily complex and compelling - and modern looking - as it was when it entered the pantheon of Balanchine’s black-and-white leotard ballets to Stravinsky back in 1957. The company looked terrific and very much at home here, and they made the work their own. Magnicaballi and Mladenov were again the stars, in the twining, twisting culminating pas de deux, but in their trios and quartets and duos, the company’s dancers were stars in their own right, dancing with both extraordinary ensemble and élan.

If Friday’s worlds were not enough - and when it comes to Balanchine, more is more - come back today for a family program in the afternoon, and for what promises to be an exciting “worlds tour” in the evening: Farrell introducing nine Balanchine pas de deux in a program called “The Balanchine Couple.”