2 appealing new ballets have their SPAC debuts at matinee

The New York City Ballet offers SPAC premieres of "Rococo Variations" and "Grazioso."

Unveiling new ballets in the afternoon at Saratoga Performing Arts Center can be risky as the midday sun dispels much of their magic. Yet the two new works from the New York City Ballet at Thursday’s matinee were so appealing that is was hardly a concern.

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rococo Variations” to Tchaikovsky and Peter Martins’ “Grazioso” (Italian for “with grace”) to music by Glinka, could be staged any time, anywhere.

Of course, credit is due not just to the choreographers and their wise choice of music, but to the dancers who give their all.

First, “Grazioso.” Sparks fly in this quartet for Ashley Bouder, Gonzalo Garcia, Daniel Ulbricht and Andrew Veyette. Martins recognizes the capability of these dancers and pushes them to the brink. Bouder has her choice of suitors who display their prowess with an arsenal of technical tricks. Ulbricht is especially daring and persuasive with his batteries and tours en l’air, including one where his leg is positioned in arabesque.

Bouder keeps them all moving as she is just as fleet and precise with her pointe work. “Grazioso” is irresistible.

“Rococo Variations,” on the other hand, is a delicate ornamental ballet. This is the last piece that Wheeldon created for the company before embarking on his own. And with its classical lacy look and use of Tchaikovsky, “Rococo Variations” adds up to a sweet homage to the company that nurtured his choreographic talent.

The piece is for two couples, Sterling Hyltin with Giovanni Villalobos and Sara Mearns with Adrian Danchig-Waring in the lead.

And like much of the rest of the company’s summer season so far, Mearns stands out. She ingratiates herself by allowing the music to move through her, as opposed to dancing on the music. Also, she has an open quality to her that is so inviting it’s hard not to accept her attractive bidding.

Unfortunately for Hyltin, dancing next to Mearns, the slender ballerina looks stiff. Worse, her partner, Villalobos, looked tentative when he moved with her. He doesn’t let go until he dances solo, behind her.

By contrast, Danchig-Waring, a corps de ballet dancer, was handy with Mearns.

Though the ballet has the look and sounds of the classic romantic, he did not cast it in the classical blueprint. So the piece keeps one’s interest by its numerous encounters, comings and goings.

George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” with Joaquin de Luz in the title role, got the afternoon off to a dramatic start. De Luz is convincing in his transformation. He bleeds rebellion in the first scene in which he jumps over his family fence in defiance of his father. In the second scene, de Luz delivers his best acting, moving from strutting with confidence to crawling and begging with shame.

The siren, danced by Kaitlyn Gilliland, hands in a better-than-usual performance. She relaxes into the role of temptress, concentrating on her persona more than the steps. She appears as a venomous snake, swallowing the Prodigal whole. It is chilling.

The afternoon concluded on a lighter note with Jerome Robbins’ comical “The Concert” with Hyltin and Veyette.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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