The New York City Ballet, with its superb orchestra directed by Andrew Litton, returned to Saratoga Springs for a short week. Whereas declining arts audiences in Covid has been a concern, Saratoga Springs’ Performing Arts Center prevails, as does the New York City Ballet. The performances on Saturday, July 16 were nothing short of astounding.
First up, in the afternoon, was George Balanchine’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. A summer favorite, with Karinska’s pastel costumes and glittering accents, and Felix Mendelssohn’s imaginative score, it creates a sphere of otherworldly characters. Suggestive, too, is the woodlands scenery by David Hays and contemporary lighting by Mark Stanley.
Mendelssohn’s exuberant music with stunning soprano solos, and its scurrying strings, alternating with the noble, the serene, and the mischievous is evocative of a spirit world of fairies and misbehaving deities. The music is the perfect vehicle for Balanchine’s inspired choreography. The season works, too—Midsummer’s Night, when the veil is thin between the magical and nonmagical worlds.
The ballet can appear “light,” in both music and moves—sprightly, upbeat, hectic. But the gravitas is there, and it’s seen in the strength and skill of the dancers. The dancers are invested: Delicate point work, beautiful port de corps as well as port de bras. Think: Anthony Huxley’s Oberon, literally catching the air in his ballon, his tour j’eté, his beats. Such is matched by Unity Phelan’s Titania—ephemeral arms, technically grand arabesques, exacting attitudes. Regal and graceful, Phelan presses into the movement. Masterful, too, is
Roman Mejia’s trickster Puck—earnest, feisty, impulsive—and Ashley Hod (as Hippolyta)’s fierce fouetté turns.
Clearly, this plot-rich, theatrical ballet allows dancers to capture its many romantic and playful moods. Truly memorable was Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Vayette’s dreamy pas de deux, with its many extensions, lifts, and breathtaking balances. This is Hyltin’s last performance at SPAC with the company. Strong and expressive, she’ll be missed.
The July 16 evening performance of 20th Century Masters was just as remarkable. On offer was Balanchine’s Chaconne, Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace, and Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces.
In Chaconne, even in lifts (with partner Tyler Angle), Sara Mearns’ long line is present. In all the pas (deux, trois, quatre, cinq), whether in extensions or beats or cabrioles, the dancers are agile and articulate. Intricate partnering, together with Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s quick-paced musical score, make this a demanding ballet.
Summerspace, with its quick changes of direction is another kind of challenge, for dancers Sara Adams, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Emilie Gerrity, Meaghan Dutton-O’Hara, Ashley Laracey, Andrew Veyette.
Deep plié into forever balances, centered torsos with feet moving flat along the floor, then hopping and jumping into arabesques, quirky jumps in which the dancer seem to hurl themselves through the air. The dancers, as in Midsummer, create an otherworldly universe, this time to the music of Morton Feldman.
In Glass Pieces, set to a driving score by Philip Glass, Unity Phelan and Jovani Furlan pleased audiences with their precision. Robbins’ moves are unpredictable—and an entire corps of dancers executes them, together with featured dancers Ashley Hod and Daniel Applebaum, Isabella LaFreniere and Davide Riccardo, Jaqueline Bologna and Devin Alberda. This is a frenetic world in which the dancers can be very exposed. Key ideas make the dance coherent. Opposition, wherein the dancers’ slow moves are juxtaposed against the forceful sound rhythms. Or the dancers skate into pounding percussion. The music soars and they travel close to the ground. It softens and they continue to run. Simplicity, another, in which Unity Phelan’s elegant plié and smooth chausée impress. Dynamics, too. Strong ritualistic steps into a still, Grecian frieze, just as the music crescendos, then darkness falls, highlighting the silhouettes and turning reckless moves into calm.
All images: NYCB