New York City Ballet returned to its summer home, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with an impressive all-Jerome Robbins program on Tuesday night. The opener introduced the theme for the company’s three-week stay, an homage to the versatile dance maker who not only envisioned hits for Broadway, but stunners for the City Ballet too.
The night began with “Glass Pieces,” titled for its music by Philip Glass, which leaves one breathless. Few dance makers can compose a compelling work of such simplicity. It begins with dancers walking, that’s it. But their intense focus and the busyness of the stage invokes an urban streetscape that is a voyeur’s dream.
The music slows and softens for the central pas de deux. The wonderful Wendy Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici swing from liquid to sharp solid as a line of female dancers steps quietly in the background. This is pure heaven, but the finale is a heart stopper. The music builds and builds as 34 dancers slice through the space. The men are hunched and charging as if to battle. The women follow, twirling, guiding lights for the men to follow.
The ballet ends with the ensemble intersecting in orderly fashion. Lines and circles cross, creating a kinetic high.
“Interplay,” to music by Morton Gould, has a similar setup. But rather than the celestial feel of “Glass Piece,” “Interplay” is earthy. Four men and four women meet as if in a park and play as youths might do. Daniel Ulbricht is perfectly cast as the show-off while Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild are sweet in a flirtatious duet.
The horsing around ends with the men sliding through the legs of the girls. “Interplay” is fun, but it does not rank with the great Robbins works.
“Afternoon of a Faun,” to Debussy, does. This duet, danced with intensity by Janie Taylor and Craig Hall, captures the young dancers in their most sacred space – the studio. Hall is alone in the room, self-absorbed in his image. (Robbins wisely uses the audience as the mirror.) Taylor enters and she too can’t take her eyes off of the mirror. Yet the two engage in a delicate duet, more enamored with their image than each other.
Some say this is a reflection of the dancers’ narcissism. But I interpret it as a dancers’ reach for perfectionism, so beyond the normal that they must always be alert to flaws.
Either way, Taylor looks enchanted and she, in turn, bewitches the audience. Hall has an animalistic quality that keeps the eyes keyed in on him too. Their coupling is electric.
The evening closed with an audience favorite, “I’m Old Fashioned,” a nod to Fred Astaire. The ballet begins with the screening of a film clip with Astaire and Rita Hayworth. Robbins taps into their moves – the sway, the kicking up of the heels and the shoulder bump with a series of variations that are elegant, at times, and witty. Maria Kowroski is paired with Jared Angle. As the more romantic, classy couple, she dominates, devouring him with her long limbs.
Ashley Bouder and Stephen Hanna are friendly rivals who spar in their duet.
But Robbins really is a man’s choreographer. He creates a jaunty run with Angle and Hanna that are the better moments for the dance.
Yet for all its charm, “I’m Old Fashioned” is not Robbins’ best. “Glass Pieces” and “Afternoon of a Faun,” on the other hand, are.
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