“West Side Story” is an iconic show. It broke ground with libretto, music and dance. Yet once the show closed on Broadway, its power could only be experienced in the regional summer stock or on video.
That is why it is so terrific that choreographer Jerome Robbins restaged the musical as a one act ballet. “West Side Story Suite” was the centerpiece on Saturday night at New York City Ballet’s gala at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And the ballet version is just as charged as the Broadway original. Better still, the dancers not only dance the numbers, but they also sing them too.
The cast of dancers held sway. A surprise, as the Gala audience is usually a restless bunch. The piece opened on the fantastic back alley scenery designed by Oliver Smith. The Jets, led by Andrew Veyette as Riff, moved right into those mighty moves, flexing their muscles, hunched to tackle the nearest Shark.
The fighting started and continued in the gym where Tony, danced without guile by Benjamin Millepied, met his Maria, Faye Arthurs. Surprisingly, Maria’s part was small. More attention was given to Anita. Georgina Pazcoguin stood out in this part as she raged in “America,” shaking her hips and head with fury.
Amar Ramasar was convincing too as the angry Bernardo.
Robbins ended the ballet on a more hopeful note, Maria and Tony met all the other Jets and Sharks in a peaceful nirvana. Its sounds corny, but the ending was moving as all the dancers joined their voices in “Somewhere.”
The all-Robbins evening opened with “Brahms/Handel,” a ballet that has not been seen at SPAC in quite some time. One would expect a touch of greatness from the ballet as it was co-choreographed by Robbins with Twyla Tharp, two genius dance makers. And the music is wonderful, Brahms’ variation and fugue on a theme by Handel. But the dancers looked terribly ill-prepared. Sara Mearns, dancing with Jared Angle, had the most difficulty. The lifts for her entry — several men held her above their heads by her leg — were awkward. She looked like she was going to tumble down to the floor at any second.
Then Angle hoisted her upside down and that looked even more clumsy. For such a graceful dancer, this was criminal.
The dancers managed better in their solos. Ashley Bouder was paired with Philip Neal. She was flawless, as usual, fitting right in as she is such a vivacious tomboy. Neal made merry while Angle kept his cool. And the corps de ballet looked out of sorts, especially in the Tharp sections. One would expect better from these great dancers.
The program also included “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” to Prokofiev, with Wendy Whelan and newcomer Gonzalo Garcia. This was a beautiful ballet in which Garcia played a haunted figure who finds salvation in an ethereal female who too is taunted. But when they melded, they found peace.
Garcia was tantalizing in this role. However, it seemed that he held back, just slightly, emotionally. Whelan gave it her all again. She had a vulnerability that made her a sympathetic and enchanting creature.