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Box-Office Ballet Debut

OFFICIALLY, THE ACCLAIMED Suzanne Farrell Ballet opened its 2003–04 tour with a gala December performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

But privileged Tallahassee audiences had an exclusive preview. Last October the legendary ballerina, and now FSU Eppes Professor of Dance, premiered the tour at the university to benefit the Department of Dance. (On Nov. 12, Farrell also was honored by the White House, tapped as one of 10 recipients of the National Medal of Arts for 2003.)

Farrell’s impeccable company filled houses for two different programs of ballets by George Balanchine, the master choreographer who revolutionized classical ballet, and for whom Farrell was a revelatory muse. The company also thrilled FSU dance majors during two weeks of rehearsals and demonstrations while Farrell honed the ballets.

Before retiring from the New York City Ballet, Farrell—a daring virtuoso with deep musical and dramatic gifts—danced in more than 100 ballets, many created for her. Now, her deft clarity as a director has impressed both major critics and the public.

Her first 1998 concert for the Kennedy Center was a special commission. Today the Suzanne Farrell Ballet is a permanent center project, 30 dancers strong, and hailed for revitalizing Balanchine’s legacy. Dance chair Elizabeth Patenaude invited Farrell to join the FSU Dance Department in 2000, “turning a dream into an incredibly exciting reality.” Farrell, who teaches regularly, says, “I have quick instincts. I visited the campus, liked the faculty and students, and saw how hard they worked. The FSU Dance Department is part of what I do now. It doesn’t feel tacked on. I feel new and as though I’ve been here forever.”

—E.A.

Jazz Squared

Hyper-groove. Royal riff. Rev the tempo. Choose your music metaphor—and then over-charge it. Not one but two jazz giants are gracing the FSU music faculty this year.

Trumpeter extraordinaire Scotty Barnhart and piano legend Marcus Roberts have been on campus teaching, critiquing students’ performances, sharing the stage with students and faculty—and generally pumping up an already potent jazz program in the School of Music.

Leon Anderson, head of the program, says jazz students get a lifetime gift from master performers who also happen to be master teachers. And make no mistake, these are masters, each with strong ties to Tallahassee and Florida State.

Barnhart has soloed for 12 years with the world-famous Count Basie Orchestra. As artist-in-residence, he’ll divide his time among Tallahassee, Los Angeles, and the globe. Barnhart’s fall 2002 stint here knocked out standing-room-only audiences, as he played with the FSU Jazz Ensemble, and dazzled students, as he gave precise pointers.

“Scotty is a leading soloist—no one better—playing with a band with a deep legacy,” says Anderson. “He knows the music inside and out, he’s worked with everyone from Sinatra to Gillespie, and his teaching skills are amazing.” Add to that Barnhart’s research and writing. His forthcoming book The World of Jazz Trumpet is the instrument’s most comprehensive study.

Barnhart, who graduated from Florida A&M University and also spent hours in FSU practice rooms, calls his residency a perfect fit: “I gather crucial experience with the orchestra and top studio musicians—and bring all of it here. Jazz can’t be learned entirely in a classroom.”

“Amen,” would agree the ultra—talented Marcus Roberts, who comes to campus as a Wiley Housewright Eminent Scholar. Roberts, a Jacksonville, Fla. native, studied piano at FSU under Prof. Leonidas Lipovetsky before turning pro, honing his art under the wing of Wynton Marsalis. His first three recordings reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts—a first for any jazz musician.

A spectacular performer of stride piano and other styles, a composer, and a learned interpreter of the vast jazz canon, Roberts has directed the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, among many super-achievements.

“This is an astounding musician at the pinnacle of his career,” says Leo Welch, professor and publicist for the School of Music. “As a Housewright Scholar, Marcus—in fact the whole Marcus Roberts Trio—spends weeks at a time here. The students’ respect is visible.”

“It feels good coming back, to bring out students’ ability and intellect, to pass on whatever musical process I’ve discovered,” Roberts said.

As Barnhart puts it: “All jazz masters pass on information, because that’s how they learned. It creates a closeness and respect. And that’s why jazz musicians can get on stage and make music together on the highest level with minimal or no rehearsal.”

Now there’s a white-hot session waiting to sizzle: The Marcus Roberts Trio / Scotty Barnhart / FSU Jazz Ensemble in concert at FSU. A homecoming to dream of. —E.A.

Dance Showcase Opens in April

ONE OF FSU’S CORE historic buildings, the Katherine Montgomery Gymnasium, finally stands to be transformed into a 21st-century dance space.

After seven decades of sharing space in the old building with other campus units—and dodging construction for the past three-and-a-half—the university’s Dance Department will soon have an impressive new home.

The $17 million project—on schedule to be finished in April— is painstakingly restoring and revitalizing a campus landmark whose history bridges remarkable eras. Built in 1929—when Florida State College for Women flourished as a “southern Radcliffe”—and expanded in 1947 as FSCW became post-war, co-ed Florida State University, the Montgomery building is a model of collegiate gothic architecture.

It was also “Miss Katie’s Gym,” where the beloved Katherine Montgomery led women’s physical education from 1923 to 1958 and founded the famous Tarpon Club of synchronized swimmers. Montgomery even sketched the original building for architects.

FSU’s top-ranked dance program has been at home in Montgomery for some 70 years. As other departments relocated, the building became dedicated to dance. And now the renovation will turn the building into an ultra-modern showcase for dance education. Consider these features:

  • Of eight audio-visual, grand-piano equipped studios, the 4,000-square-foot Grand Studio is a stunning light-filled space. (Restoration uncovered an original open-vaulted ceiling.)
  • The Nancy Smith Fichter Dance Theatre now features a separate lobby, more seating, music and tech booth, sound and light locks, and three-point videotaping.
  • Dancers and visiting artists finally have real dressing rooms with audio paging, green room with video monitors, on-site costume shop, and a conditioning studio with advanced equipment and sprung floor.
  • The amazing Dance Technology and Music Wing adds a black box theatre for 360-degree viewing and filming; expands the Music Resource Center (computer composing and editing) with a recording sound stage; and creates a video editing studio—all of it wired together, connected by observation windows, and central to the National Choreography Center, an FSU initiative poised to bring major artists to campus.

Dance chair Elizabeth Patenaude relishes the fact that at long last, history and vision came together in Montgomery’s remarkable make-over. “This building is historically significant for FSU and for our respected dance program. We’ve preserved its character while propelling FSU Dance into the future.”—E.A.